The Rams Horn Archives

2013

Issue 300

Lead Article: 
Parasites

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Corporate and Conservative keds on shorn sheepParasites: As sheep farmers, we learned to manage parasites. But what about the parasites on the body politic?
Reactions Regarding Seeds: Proposed changes to the seeds and Plant Breeders Rights law will be devastating for agriculture
Weeds: Resistance to herbicides continues to expand and multiply
Approving Contamination: Canada leads in efforts to permit "low-level presence" of GM in crops exported to Europe
The treadmill continues: New GM variety of "hairy Canola" developed; Monsanto trying to get approval of older and more powerful herbicide-resistant crops
Fertilizer Fibs: Soil tests have drastically overestimated need for phosphate
It's the Bees' Knees: Bee pollination improves quality as well as quantity
Ketchup: Heinz is taken over by US hedge funds and closes plant in Leamington after 104 years in business
Protection Racket: for pesticide companies, that is
Spin the Revolving Door: CropLife Canada gets a senior CFIA bureaucrat and an MP to enhance its lobbying
Hawaii Update: GM is banned at the county level on several of Hawaii's islands
Food Security Technologies: The language of food security is co-opted by biotech, nanotech, fertilizer and agro-toxin corporations
Surprise! Bison Don't Fatten: Research shows bison want grass, don't get fat on grain like cattle do.

Issue 299

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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the remnants of a farmThanksgiving: Grace composed by Rebecca Kneen
Food Sovereignty and Supply Management: The Harper government is bent on destroying the elements of food sovereignty that farmers and others have built over the years. We need to think differently.
High Price of Buying Votes: The food industry spends big to defeat an initiative which would force labeling of GE foods in Washington State.
Protests Halt Monsanto Project: Protests have stopped Monsanto building a plant in Argentina; A Mexican judge orders a halt to planting GE crops.
No GM pubses, thank you:The head of one of the worlds largest traders in pulses opposes GM
Roundup Remains: A new study shows alarmingly high residues of glyphosate in crops harvested in Argentina
Drugs for Production Animals: Animal pharmaceuticals are a big money-maker.
More Agribusiness Consolidation: Agrium and Viterra this time.
Cargill Updates: A new oil crushing plant in Russia, and a new CEO focused on financialization.
Agropoly: An interesting and important new resource on just how the food system is organized and controlled.
New Immigrants /Investors: Export plans for Chinese farmers in Manitoba.
Was Colonialism Ever More Cynical?: Analysis of the "The New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security" and other corporate-government initiatives to take over African agriculture.
Who Will Feed Us?: ETC Group's new publication on the Industrial Food Chain versus the Peasant Food Web.

Issue #298

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Muddled Thinking on the Middle Class: Confusing middle income with middle class helps hide the reality of exploitation behind inequity.
Corporate Irresponsibility: JBS, the owner of XL Foods, is so huge it seems to be able to make its own rules, placing blame for contamination on the CFIA.
Bird Species Threatened: Species are shrinking because of the growth of monoculture cropping, including the disappearance of habitat such as Canada's natural prairies.
Disney Creates Charming Agro-toxin Spray Plane: Disney's newest characted, a 'principled, hard-working and kind' crop duster, receives approval from the US Ag Aviation association.
More on Beemageddon: A new study points out the complexity of threats to bees, including fungicides.
You Are What You Eat, part 2: Plant DNA has been found in human blood.
Food Sovereignty or Corporate Sovereignty: Cargill is now in a position to arrange the world food system to its agenda.
Money Chasing Money Around: Insurance company mergers and acquisitions.
The Perils of Industrial Food Production: New Zealand dairy products banned from some international markets on reportts of botulism contamination.
Haitian Peasant Group Wins Food Sovereignty Prize: A group made famous by their refusal to accept Monsanto's disaster aid of GMO seeds wins the Food Sovereignty Prize; the World Food Prize goes to execs from Monsanto and Syngenta.
African Food Sovereignty: African farmer coalition moves to support small-holder farmers and their seed supplies in the face of African and foreign attempts to control them.
Bruised Fruit: A reflection on the changes in Del Monte over the decades.
Syngenta on the Attack: In defense of atrazine, Syngenta tries to discredit critics.

Issue 297

Lead Article: 
DEMOCRACY AND THE STATE

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Democracy and the State: A reflection on the effects of corruption and the destruction of the democract institutions on food sovereignty in Canada.
Inequity: ActionAid report - how many executive salaries it would take to feed all the world's hungry
Cargill News: Long term strategic thinking to stay on top of the food chain.
The Monsanto File: To our dismay, we have to keep reporting on the shenanigans of the corporation everyone loves to hate: further expansion of GE crops in Europe, the drop in protein content of soy (a key GE crop) in Argentina, stray GE seeds found in Oregon and Kansas which are hurting the US' export market, Monsanto wins court case against farmer in the US, Milking the "subsidy cow", Maine passes a 'reight-to-know act.
Even Worse Than We Thought: A new report in the journal Entropy reveals potential links between glyphosate and a range of health problems and diseases, including obesity and Alzheimer's.
Sobey's Buys Safeway: The predominant Maritime grocery chain pays $5.8 billion cash for the Western grocery chain.
Hawaii: Food and Sovereignty: Hawaiians protest the imposition of genetic engineering, stating that their indigenous culture sees it as sacreligious and linking food sovereignty with political sovereignty.
Neonicotinoid pesticides linked to bee death: cartoon

Issue #296

Lead Article: 
BOUNDARIES AND BORDERS

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Boundaries and Borders: Brewster reflects on a Vancouver gathering with Indigenous thinkers on land, and ponders the process of identifying territories with respect for the ecology and history of the area along with the need to continuously negotiate boundaries.
Fluid BoundariesOttawa abandoning swaths of prairie grassland: excerpts from an article by Trevor Herriot on the Federal government's decision to abandon responsibility for 9,300 square km. of prairie and open it to privatization.
GM Canola Label: Even the Canola Council recognizes that customers want labeling.
German Fields GMO-Free: No commercial GMO crops were grown in Germany in 2012 and 2013 will be the same, a result of consumer pressure.
Corporate Seed Destroys Food Sovereignty: A session at the World Social Forum on Peasant Seeds concludes that peasants must be autonomous in terms of seeds.
Drought Resistant Varieties: A drought tolerant maize is developed with conventional breeding.
Greece's Great Urban Exodus: Young people are fleeing to the homes their grandparents left, where they stand a chance of making a living.
Antibiotic Resistance: Ontario Medical Association advocates strong controls on the agricultural use of antibiotics, to protect their use in medicine. The industry is in denial.
Patenting the Public Domain: Nestlé claims ownership of fennel seed despite centuries of traditional medical use.
Monarch Butterflies Lose Grouns: Loss of a major food source as a result of RoundUp use is resulting in substantial reduction in numbers of the iconic butterflies.
Decoding Rhetoric: Some tips on how to make sense of the information flowing from the biotech industry and its partners and front groups.

Issue 295

Lead Article: 
Milk, Marvellous Milk

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Milk, Marvellous Milk: Our holiday in Spain got us thinking about yoghurt, the dairy industry, and the promotion of infant formula by the ever-powerful food industry.
Nestlé buys Pfizer Nutrition: The announcement notes that 85% of their business is in "emerging markets", i.e. promotion of formula in poor countries.
Playing with your food:In the largest food transaction ever, H.J. Heinz has been bought out, with huge profits to the speculators .
Recalcitrant Triffid: Still reeling from the effects of GMO flax, the industry inexplicably welcomes a new herbicide-resistant variety.
Herbicide tolerance/resistance: Weed scientists observe multiples resistance to a 'rainbow of herbicides'
Monsanto profits increase: mostly because of seed sales in Latin America
Feeding the Dragon: "Global soya cultivation is synonymous with monocultured GM agriculture."
Biofuel Rundown:
     [Not] Food Security: U of Saskatchewan's new Institute pushing biofuels as an element of food security -- really.
     Dust Bowl, Again: US prairie is being converted to corn and soy, with predictable results 
The Food Policy Bandwagon: The food industry, in the form of the Conference Board of Canada, is trying hard to pre-empt the grassroots call for a national food security policy
Killer Heat Waves and Floods Linked to Climate Change: Journalist Stephen Leahy reports on new European scientific studies
Old Calories: Fred Kirschenmann tells farmers that we need to change our farming practices now while we still have some choice.

Issue 294

Lead Article: 
Idle No More

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Idle No More: The Harper regime's removal of environmental protection of lands and waterways is just the latest blow to food security for Indigenous peoples and has sparked a growing movement, led by Indigenous women and youth, to force the Harper regime to respect Treaty rights
Protest Omnibus Bill C-45New Zealand: Maori Act to Protect the Environment: Maori cite GMOs as an affront to their culture, health, and wellbeing, as well as a violation of their treaties.
GMO Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Poland and other European countries have responded to the EU directive forcing them to allow sales of GMO seeds by passing new laws which forbid farmers to plant them.
Séralini-Glyphosate update: Legal action begins against the ill-founded attacks on Séralini's research showing definite harm from ingestion of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, RoundUp -- see RH #293
The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: The Nature Institute devastates the reductionist analysis on which genetic engineering is based
Corporate News & Updates:
     Renewable fuel lobby shifts focus (from ethanol to bio-diesel)
     Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (CropLife wants more public money for their research)
     Corporate Takeovers (ConAgra, Saputo, NY Stock Exchange)
     Monsanto Executive Compensation (nobody actually earns $14 million!)
Financialization of Food: Abstract of a very clear analysis by Professor Jennifer Clapp
Low-Level Contamination: Canada is putting a wedge in the door for GMOs by pushing for a policy allowing low-level presence of GMOs in imported grain
Wrecking Rural Communities: The Conference Board of Canada recommends a national food policy that will devastate the countryside
A Hotter World Is a Hungry World: A report by Stephen Leahy on the real effects of global warming.

2012

Issue 286

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Who Pays the Harper, Calls the Tune: We look more closely at the control the corporate sector exercises over governments, particularly with reference to trade agreements, and collaboration of NGOs in this regard
Greening McDonald's: World Wildlife Fund partners on 'sustainably managed' sources
Importing Low Wages:  Target stores prepare to move into Canada under their same old model
Revolving Door Revolves Again: Stephen Yarrow moves from CFIA to CropLife 
Haiti: An "Unnatural Disaster": The disaster built on decades of US free trade and food aid that undermined Haitian small scale, intensive agriculture - this needs to be reclaimed
Orange Juice Concentration: Coke and Pepsi together control nearly 2/3 of the market
"A Lack of Acceptance":  of GMOs in Europe affects canola, corn
In Their Own Words: Canadian Ag Minister Ritz insists that contamination is good for organics; Kraft is showcasing efforts to reduce its carbon footprint
Unsustainable: Notes on industrial agriculture, biodiesel
Or Sustainable: A new report shows how agroecologically efficient systems support food sovereignty
Resistance: Weeds like Johnsongrass popping up like new food movement initatives
Monsanto - Again: We really wish they would go away! but we have to keep reporting, as below:
False Advertising, India: Monsanto's claims on Bt cotton are proved false
Glyphosate - Resistance: A growing number of weeds are now resistant to glyphosate (Roundup)
and Persistence: Both glyphosate and its breakdown products are found in rain and rivers in the USA.

Issue 287

Lead Article: 
The Business of Organics
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The Business of Organics: The Guelph Organic Conference reveals a focus on the management of organic businesses
Sober Reflections: Ted Zettel, one of the founders of Organic Meadow Co-op, talks about the challenges to keep the original vision while participating as a fairly major player in the larger food systemSanitizing Language: from GMOs to GIOs: We propose an alternative to the deceptively innocent "genetically modified organisms"
Monsanto: Beyond the Love to Hate: Not to exonerate Monsanto, but there are other bad actors we should pay attention to as well
Specious Arguments: A dose of genetic engineering propaganda from a Saskatchewan professor who ought to know better
Ethanol: a government baby: Even the George Morris Centre recognizes the reality of the massively subsidized ethanol industry
Cargill and Food Quality:  A top Cargill meat division executive muses on the lower quality of 'highly productive', growth-hormone treated beef, offers no solution
Greenwashing the beef industry: Cargill and World Wildlife Fund are among those at the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (as long as there are sustainable profits, that is)
Global Health Watch 3: An Alternative World Health Report:  Excerpts from a report on Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) and their misuse as a dietary supplement as opposed to emergency feeding
Peanuts in Haiti: As in Africa, the RUTF in Haiti comes from an alliance of NGO and drug company. Is it the same picture? 

 

Issue 288

 

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The Economy as oil pipelineDragging people around by The Economy: The Economy is based on limitless energy -- rather like a pipeline though which an endless supply of oil and gas must flow, no matter what damage is caused.
Obesity and Ideology: A book review of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism by Julie Guthman
Prairie Landscape: Viterra is broken up, leaving a trio of corporations controlling Canadian grain trade, and the CEO with a payout of more than $13 million
Normalizing GE: to the point where people are eating GE glow-in-the-dark sushi
Deteriorating biotech: The failure of hype in Britain: Only 27% of Britons agree that GM food should be encouraged
Bt Cotton in India: Hailed as a saviour, Bt cotton has been a disaster, as a variety of articles demonstrate, even in a market already confused by more than 700 varieties of see on offer
GE Corn in USA: Corn engineered to resist rootworm doesn't work, according to scientists; Monsanto recommends using more pesticides
Labelling, again: The Just Label It campaign forces the US Food and Drug Administration to consider their demands; the state of Connecticut takes the first steps toward labelling GMOs
Protecting Local Seeds:  Zimbabwe moves to ban genetically engineered seeds from the country
GE Pig Research Halted: The Canadian university developing a pig engineered to produce less phosphorus in its dung has (at least for now) has lost the funding for their work and halted their breeding program
Trade Trumps Politics: Despite all the fear and war-like rhetoric, trade between Israel and Iran carries on.

Issue 289

Lead Article: 
Minding Our Ps and Qs

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Minding Our Ps and Qs:Which comes first, the straight line of The Economy or the circle of the food system?
Really BIG Beef: Cattle being drugged to gain more weight more quickly are producing tough and tasteless meat
It's Just a Tool, Honest: The 'yuck factor' kicks in as the public learns about the use of rendered product, a.k.a. pink slime, in hamburgers and other meat products
Back on the Technology Treadmill: Old crop chemicals, abandoned because of their risks, are coming back to try to deal with multiple pesticide resistance caused by GE crops
The Real Cost of Biotech: Australian farmers get less for GE canola, more for GE-free; by-products of GE canola have no market
Energy Sources and Uses: Canola: The market for canola for biodiesel is robust -- as long as there are subsidies
The Economy as oil pipelineA Stark Choice: USA authorities ponder Dow's request for approval of new varieties resistant to 2,4,D
INDIA:
Breeding non-GE Cotton: Farmers are turning away from GE cotton while a new research program is exploring non-GE options
Karnataka Farmer Goes Organic: One Indian farmer has successfully transitioned to organic cotton farming and now has 23 varieties under production 
"Luxury is Sustainability": The glitz and glamour of consuming for charity
Nestlé gets even bigger: The purchase of Pfizer's "infant nutrition" branch puts Nestlé ahead in the Chinese market
Monsanto's GMOs unpopular: Monsanto has given up on getting its latest offering approved in France
For the Record: Monsanto's statement about Agent Orange; CEO Hugh Grant touts the company's "penetration" into Latin America
Hungary Destroys Tainted Crops: Thousands of hectares of corn contaminated with Monsanto and Pioneer GE traits is destroyed.

Issue 290

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Visible State, Invisible Government: The role and power of the G20, and behind that, the B20
Harper courts the TPPNAFTA on Steroids: The Trans-Pacific Partnership takes foreign control of procurement down to the municipal level
Corporate Perspective: Cargill says the TPP will enhance economic opportunity and, of course, increase food security
Private Solutions: Only the private sector can get measurable results, so just turn it all over to them, OK?
Brazil: Royalties on Soy: Court challenges to Monsanto's royalties on all crops with Roundup Ready traits have some success
Coup in Paraguay: about seeds and profits: Behind the news is corporate strategy to maintain their profit flow from transgenic soy
 Food Secure Canada Assembly: The theme is Powering Up! Food for the Future, and proposals are still being accepted for FSC's November conference in Edmonton
G8 still going strong: While the G20 gets the publicity, the G8 continues to work to control Africa's agriculture
India's Adoption of Bt Cotton: A Sign of Success or Failure: Indian sources see the spread of Bt cotton as an indicator of the failure of chemical agriculture; others point to the spread of bollworm infestation to food crops as a result
Weed Resistance: Worldwide, weeds resist the control measures of farmer "police"
Grain Trade Update: With a recent purchase, Japan's Marubeni becomes a match for Cargill
Africa: Reading the Script: The President of Malawi parrots the corporate line on GM in his State of the Nation speech
Into the World Food Chain: Cargill spokesman comments frankly about plans to chain Africa to the global food system.

Issue 291

Lead Article: 
Spikes and Speculation

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Spikes and Speculation: The real reasons behind the rise in food prices after the extreme weather of the past few months, and some details of the effects and commentary /analysis:
Speculator drives food price spike    High grain prices hit pig exports
    Poultry producers in trouble
    A Threat To (or From?) the Poor
    "Financialization"
Bank Stops Food Speculation: Germany's Commerzbank says speculation in food prices is immoral
Get Out of Jail Free: PM Harper usurps a Royal prerogative to pardon the prairie farmers who broke the law in exporting their grain
Who will feed China?: A list of the substantial Chinese investments in food production around the world
The Wonderful Baobab: A little-known wonder tree of Africa
On the Outside: The Federal government has no time to listen to the Federation of Agriculture
Genetically Modified Tires: Fed up with flat tires on their equipment from GM corn stalks, farmers turn to DuPont, makers of both Kevlar and GM corn
Fungi to the Rescue: Miraculous results in plant growth and productivity from treatment with fungi - preferably in a community
Editorial: The Ram's Horn is turning to the larger issues within which the food system operates (in case you hadn't noticed)

Issue 292

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The Name is Coli. E Coli.Reductionism in the Slaughter-House: An analysis of the background, context, and different approach to the highly centralized system of beef production and slaughter in Canada and the recent crisis of e. coli contamination in foods from XL meat packers in Brooks, Alberta:
   Food inspection by press release (‘alerts’)
   Built-In Conflict of Interest
   Control Over Livestock Prices
   Who Are the Owners?
   You didn’t think we could get through this without discussing Cargill, did you?  
   About the Labour Force
   A Rancher’s Perspective
   Breaking News:
   The Saga Continues
Double Standard – Séralini and Monsanto: Ground-breaking research from respected scientists prove   harm to lab rats from consuming both RoundUp and glyphosate-resistant crops; Monsanto fights back dirty
Northumberlamb: A successful co-op based on principles of respect, integrity and trust -- 30 years later
Food Price Spike Loses Edge: FAO changes its mind, there is not such a crisis after all
Cargill Prescription: We look at the language used by a top official
Perils of GE: Wind Blown Canola: High winds spread windrows of GMO canola all over neighbouring fields, contaminating the whole countryside
Department of Shameless Promotion: This issue is being circulated at Food Secure Canada's Assembly in Edmonton -- an encouragement to participants to explore The Ram's Horn further 

"The Name is Coli. E Coli."

Issue 293

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Running Scared: Both the Harper regime and the biotech industry are working overtime to ensure that the public cannot find out what they are up to in time to stop them - the huge amounts of money spent to avoid GMO labelling, and the continuing vicious attack on Seralini are cases in point

GMO regulation in Africa

On Investment: The OECD insists that it is private investment (eg. land grabs) is the key to development

Legalizing Corporate Colonialism: Gates Foundation supports the agenda of Monsanto, Syngenta, et. al., to gain control of African agriculture through the colonizing agency of engineered and patented seed, synthetic fertilizer, and the legal framework of regulation
Take Your Pills: Fertilizer parallels dietary supplements in pill form instead of a balanced diet
Market development: Potash corp partners with Free the Children, Cargill partners with the Aga Khan Foundation
Rootworms closing in on Monsanto-Syngenta: As predicted, pest resistance is spreading - to be countered with a new pesticide, of course
Product Development: New research on rice is trying to genetically engineer 'efficiency' through the photosynthetic pathway
Defending Maize in Mexico: A very strong and clear statement from a coalition of organizations supporting maize diversity
True Believer: The President of Paraguay says that God supports transgenic crops - in church
Coming Home to Roost: New reports that destruction of the Wheat Board has removed the farmer voice. Who would have thought?

2011

Issue 278: Thinking Like a Movement

Thinking Like a Movement

#278, January 2011

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  Table of Contents

Thinking Like a Movement:  Food Secure Canada's biennial Assembly demonstrates youthful energy as it begins with reistance to the global land grab for biomass and ends with a call to movement collaboration and solidarity
Miami Rice: Subsidized US rice undercuts attempts to help Haitian farmers
Biotech industry fails to capture Vatican: Despite lobbying, the Vatican is still not supporting GMOs
Bt Corn Breeds New Pest: A German report on the precise way in which GE crops support new pest outbreaks
Co-Esiztence?: USDA Secretary calls for an impossible "coexistence and cooperation" while recognising the scientific proof of GMO contamination of other crops; an Australian organic farm is decertified because of contamination 
Non-GMO preferred: Still a minority, non-GMO crops are increasing in popularity in Ohio
Organic Cotton: Demand, No Seeds: Farmers in India face a shortage of non-Bt cotton seed 

Sheep Choose Medications: A research report that sheep select plants to correct dietary imbalance illness 
Pakistan Flooded with Corporate Seeds: The seed/fertilizer package delivered as aid is part of a drive to transform Pakistan's agriculture to cash crop export (likely with GMO seeds for openers)
Dirty Green: The EU attempt to cut carbon emissions with biofuels omits the emissions from growing the biomass crops
Drought and the Defiant: Indian farmers in the Deccan Plateau, Andhra Pradesh use a variety of seeds and traditional practices to flourish despite fluctuations in rains.

Issue 279: Food Crisis or Agribusiness as Usual

Food Crisis or Agribusiness as Usual

#279, February 2011

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Food Crisis or Agribusiness as Usual:  Brewster looks behind the headlines to identify the real forces causing hunger, including discussion of:
    * World Economic Forum - Plans unveiled at Davos to reconfigure Mozambique's agriculture as a model for corporate profit
    * Plenty of Food - Is shortage really the problem?
    * Speculation Inflated Food Price Bubble - Stephen Leahy reports
    * A Different "Food Crisis" Explanation - GRAIN explores the creation of a food crisis in Russia
With a Grain of Salt: Canada hands over regulation of salt content in food to a new committee composed largely of food manufacturers
Contamination & Coexistence:
    * Potato Is A Person, Not A Resource - Brewster discusses the destructive attitudes behind genetic engineering and the logical outcomes
    * Drug Safety: Side effects and mistakes or adverse reactions and deadly errors?
    Hoist with their own Petard:
    * US Approves Corn Modified for Ethanol - and the industry is worried that contamination will affect their manufacturing processes
    * "Unintended" effects - Centre for Food Safety documents contamination
    * "Food terrorism" - US expert warns Saskatchewan farmers, forgets to mention GE
    * "Struggling Food Processing Sector" - Nestle, Cargill etc. claim they need Federal financial support
New agricultural agreement: China in Argentina: GRAIN documents land grabs, in this case for industrial soy production

 

Issue 280: Food Sovereignty and Autonomy

Food Sovereignty and Autonomy

#280, April 2011

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  Table of Contents

Food Sovereignty and Autonomy: 

Contrast between the call for agro-ecology as the key to realization of the right to food from Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the agenda unveiled in the Davos New Vision for Agriculture, with special focus on the plans for Tanzania
Market and Subsistence: Actually, the price of rice is relatively stable -- because most rice is eaten where it is grown
Autonomy in Practice: Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture is building soil health and feeding the people in Andhra Pradesh state, India
And now, the bad news: TechnoServe is partnering with an impressive list of transnational food corporations to 'help' Haiti by developing a 'sustainable' mango export industry
Leaves a bad taste: A NAFTA ruling gives Cargill a large chunk of cash ($77 million plus court costs) and permission to continue selling subsidized US-produced HFCS tax-free in Mexico 
An Energy Drink: Coke introduces a 'green' plastic bottle in Canada
More Sweetness: Toronto (and Paris France) are better places to keep bees than Guelph, possibly because of their pesticide bans

Naked Oats: Campbell's develops a super-nutritional product (designed for food banks) with a new version of oats developed in Canada's public labs 
Biotech Puffery and Propaganda: The Internaional Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, usually referred to as ISAAA, and its writer Clive James, once more prove that their propaganda has no factual foundation
More Reliable Data on Biotech Crops: Actual facts (with references) are available from Friends of the Earth International

Editors' Note: We resent being forced to vote for a party we do not support in order to try to unseat a vicious right-wing MP. 

Issue 281

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Table of Contents

Thinking Like a [Political] Movement
Brewster reflects on the political movements since the 1950s and the need to focus on the Big Picture.
What's Wrong with this Picture?: The G&M Report on Business asks "How do we feed 7 billion people?"; we say that WE aren't the ones to do that.
Organic Forced Labour: Whole Foods Market is accused of selling produce from China grown by prisoners on polluted land.
Issues concerning the Future of the Canadian Wheat Board: Laura Rance in the Winnipeg Free Press outlines what will happen once the CWB has been destroyed and the effects on not just markets but also research and seed breeding.
... And Waiting in the Wings: Cargill, along with the other grain trading majors, are ready for the demise of the CWB
Who Commands the Economy?: The National Research Council puts market priorities first
How to read the newspaper: Two articles in the Globe & Mail point out the 'rising demand for potash fertilizer' and the increased ownership of Bill Gates in the Canadian National Railway (which moves potash among other things)

African Opposition to AGRA: Gates' big project in Africa, to impose a food system dependent on inputs including fertilizer and GMO seeds, is opposed in Tanzania.
Genome Not the Solution: Despite the hype, there is little evident for a genetic basis to disease

Agrotoxins Kill Farmers: An interview with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School, discussing the tide of farmer suicides in India resulting from the Green Revolution.
Centralized Seed: Monsanto increases its penetration in the seeds business.
Ignoring refuge requirement: only 70=80% of Illinois corn farmers say they will abide by the rule to grow 20% non-GMO along with their Bt seed.
Monsanto Melon 'Invention': No Patents on Seeds! denounces Monsanto's patent on openly bred melon variety;

Issue 282

Lead Article: 
It's the Economy, Stupid

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Table of Contents

It's the Economy, Stupid: Stephen Harper says The Economy is all-important and so as An Economist he is fit to rule the country. We point out the flaws in his arguments.
The Invisible Giant becomes visible: Cargill is committed to growth. We chronicle some of what that means - for the company and for the rest of us.
'Responsible' Soy':  Corporate strategy is denounced as "consumer deceit".
Peddling Poison: Canada stands alone in the world as it vetoes a ban on chrysotile asbestos (mined in Quebec).
Forget Food, We Need Biomass: A Canadian biotech promoter joins US Secretary of Agriculture in promoting farming for anything other than food.
Poisons not needed: Brazil's farm workers state they can produce just as much without agro-toxins.
'Push-Pull' Pest Control: An innovative strategy to deal with plant pests spreads.

Issue 283

Lead Article: 
Markets, Standards & Poorer

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Table of Contents

Markets, Standards & Poorer
"Volatility" in the Market is not happenstance and gains huge profits for some players.
What's really driving up foor prices:  Unlike the WTO, the FAO recognizes that crops for biofuel are playing a very large role
GM corn for fuel, not food: A new corn variety designed specifically for biofuel has farmers and food manufacturers worried
Beware simple history: Samuel Bowles raises questions about why the shift from hunting/ gathering to agriculture when it seems the first farmers were less healthy
New GRAIN website: Excellent resources for researchers and activists, including a new site with the best information on the global land grab
Biotech: As CBAN provides more information we can focus (a bit) on other aspects of the food system
Labelling GM: The USA has finally allowed acceptance of CODEX guidelines

Butterflies, not Lawns: Monarch butterflies are suffering because of GE crops which are sprayed with agrotoxins that kill milkweed, their major food
Side effects: A GM canola spill from a road train in Australia threatens the GE-Free status of local farmers

Commitment to Profit: From Starbucks to Potash Corp. the focus is the same
Killing the Wheat Board: As the Harper regime continues its ideologically-based agenda, the major grain corporations gleefully prepare for new opportunities
         S&P on the Warpath   

Bunge: CEO says government intervention causes problems in grain markets
Cargill: Plans to construct a new grain terminal in Alberta
* Transportation efficiency: reduce pollution and costs -- Cargill announces a new kite-powered cargo vessel
* Expanding, integrating, and recalling -- Cargill acquires Provimi, recalls 36 million pounds of ground turkey
* Reducing [specified] risk -- Cargill is building a facility to burn SRMs and use the heat to product power for its packing factory

Issue 284

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Table of Contents

Citizen, Subject, and Food Sovereignty: Brewster argues that to achieve food sovereignty we need to get a better grip on colonialism and the way in which citizens are being reduced to the status of subjects.
No government: no state?: Belgium has now been without a government for15 months.
All about grain (and GRAIN):  Announcing a new issue of "Against the Grain" connecting a different food system with effective action against climate change; also, announcing GRAIN has received the Right Livelihood Award for their work on land grabs.
Cargill Notes: A propos the recall of Cargill's turkey, some thoughts about the root causes of such contamination.
Canadian Wheat Board: Government regards farmers with contempt: Not really news, but more evidence of the refusal of the Harper government to pay attention to evidence
Fair Trade or Not: TIm Horton's and Glencore
PepsiCoolie: PepsiCo is promoting industrial agriculture in China.
A plus for ethanol, a minus for food: Food manufacturers are worried about contamination from Syngenta's new GE corn.
India's miracle cotton unravels: Bt cotton has swept the country, but yields are stagnant and new pests are emerging.
GMO "Success": India: New varieties cannot cope with unusual weather, leaving farmers with no crop  and huge debts
GMO "Success": USA: New pests plague Monsanto's Bt corn
DuPont: Deadly Landscaping: DuPont's weedkiller also kills trees
Feeding the Future: A different way of burial
US State Dept /biotech sales rep: In Gambia, US State Dept uses outright lies to bring farmers into the GE fold
Kenya law allows biotech crops: New legal framework announced
Local, Colourful (and non-GMO): promotion of Orange Sweet Potatoes in the Solomon Islands to counter an increasingly Western diet..

Issue 285

Lead Article: 
Trade and Sovereignty

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Table of Contents

Trade and Sovereignty: Examining the early trading companies' activities reveals that the rights of corporations were recognized prior to the recognition of nation states
Toronto Food Policy Council: The ground-breaking TFPC celebrates its 20th birthday
Speaking the Truth:  Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food discusses "the structural violence of a cannibalistic order" of multinational corporations and calls for the realization of a different model
Land Grab in Tanzania: A bad deal for Tanzania and a worse deal for the environment with the plans for transforming 1,250 square miles of land into large-scale, GMO-based production
R.I.P. Democracy: CWB: Is Harper indulging an idee fixe or setting up a distraction from his energy and climate change policies?
Raw Rights: The campaign for raw milk is soured by libertarian claims for the 'right' to consume whatever you please
Recycled Arguments:  Attacks on marketing boards use the same old (and wrong) arguments for more than 20 years
Turkeys and Marketing Boards: An farm reports on the difficulty of making a small farm work under the Ontario turkey marketing board rules.
GMO Canola Everywhere: New research shows GMO canola thriving across the US prairies; the CFIA says there is no risk
'Fumigating' Crops and Villages: The Network of Physicians of Fumigated Towns in Argentina denounced the serious effects of pesticide spraying and highlights it as an attack on population health.

2010

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to download the whole issue by clicking on the icon. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

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#277, November 2010: The Food Movement: From reform to revolution?

Table of Contents

The Food Movement: From reform to revolution? How Big Food   is trying to take over the food movement, and the core values which are being defended in the struggle
Biotech in Europe: Europeans remain suspicious of genetically engineered foods; The European Food Safety Authority toughens assessment procedures
South Africa's corn glut: Lots of GM corn but few buyers.
Won't - or can't - stand still: Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass creeps a long way; the widespread distribution of GM flax is "an unsolved mystery"
Truth in packaging: Polystyrene is possibly carcinogenic, so is plastic made from GM corn an improvement?
Japan eager for PEI's non-GMO canola
"The choosing experience": Companies improve profits by deleting product lines

HAITI: Security for What? We reflect on the obsession of the Harper government and others with 'security'
Canada's Aid to Haiti: Building jails, equipping police, and building homes (and an embassy) for its diplomats
Land: Two different stories: the potato industry eyes fragile land designated for conservation; 100 miles of shelter belts in Saskatchewan are cleared to increase 'productivity' of machinery operators
What Price Healthy Rivers? A report from Stephen Leahy on the effects of damming rivers

Anniversary: The Ram's Horn is now 30 years old - worth supporting, don't you think?

 


 

 

#276, September-October 2010: Water

Table of Contents

 

Water: Looking at the governance (management) of water, not just the flow but water embedded in food and other agricultural commodities.
     The virtual water export of Peruvian asparagus
     Pakistan flood: "You cannot just produce 6 million new chicks"

Potash Corp: Benefits for whom? China is bidding for PotashCorp to ensure cheap fertilizer for its farmers; that might lower the price, which would help Saskatchewan farmers but mean less revenue for the province.
Make war, not food: Instead of working on prison farms, the Government has decided that inmates will refurbish military vehicles -- and put more people in jail, at huge cost.
Keeping the Books: We find more and more sources of information and analysis have been 'de-funded', causing appeals to users like the Ram's Horn to help them survive as independent news sources, including the idea of a Journalism CSA. With thanks to all the patrons of The Ram's Horn!
Gluphosate just won't go away: The active ingredient in Roundup is now shown to cause malformations in frog and chicken embryos at very low residue levels.
The Globalburger: every bite counts ... as profit: A private Brazilian investment fund bids for Burger King; Cargill recalls a mountain of ground beef.
Corporate Collusion Illustrated: Cargill passes seed business to Monsanto but moves into groceries in Brazil, while Monsanto works with BASF and Syngenta with Bayer CropScience.
Standards again: The Roundtable on Sustainable Soy fines one of Cargill's suppliers for serious violations of their rules.

Agrotoxin use in Brazil: The world's largest user of agrotoxins fines virtually all the pesticide suppliers.
Tree Monocultures: A commentary from the World Rainforest Movement on the occupation of territories by plantation companies.
Food for all -- India: The Prime Minister claims that there is no way to feed his people, despite the order of the Supreme Court.

 

#275, August 2010: Old MacDonald Had A Standard

 PDFTable of Contents

Old MacDonald Had A Standard

 

Starting with the formation of the Chicago Board of Trade, trying to regulate the grain trade, standards have spread all over the place - and do not always assure the consumer of the integrity of the product.
Know Your Fish: Marine Stewardship Council is one standard that is reliable
Industrial-Strength Standards: Monsanto and others tout 'standards' that are just PR; Cargill is using standards as another tool to lock farmers into its systems.
Waste Not, Want Less: Looking at food waste and our energy footprint.
Global Agribusiness: Two decades of plunder: An appreviated version of a thoughtful reflection in GRAIN's publication, Seedling, discussing 20 years of defense of biodiversity around the world and in global forums, watching the rise of agribusiness.
Mongolian Camels and mining companies: Both Rio TInto and the traditional nomadic herders need water. Guess who is getting it?
Aphids: pest-resistant soybeans have been developed using traditional breeding - and Monsanto has announced a GE soy tolerant to powerful insecticides.
"The feed-the-world business": Agrium Inc. is offering to buy the privatized Australian Wheat Board;
Then there is BHP Billiton which is trying to purchase Saskatchewan's Potash Corp.
Lobbies: Millions of dollars grease a close relationship between major corporations and governments, often in support of genetic engineering.
Another "cost of doing business": a $2.5 million fine against Monsanto for illegal distribution of GE cotton seed in Texas.
Pomoting GE? Laying it on the line: top US government officials reassure the biotech industry convention that they will promote their products.

 

#274, June-July 2010: Standards and Food System Colonization

PDFTable of Contents

Standards and Food System Colonization: Looking at the   dangers of relying on standards and certification which can overwhelm local diverse systems
Climate Certification of Food:  Sweden is introducing standards to allow climate certification for vegetables and fish
Fresh Fish CSA: A group of fishermen in Nova Scotia will deliver directly to customers, hope to make a living
US Supreme Court Decision on RR Alfalfa: Monsant  claims victory, but in fact Roundup Ready Alfalfa is a long way from being approved
The cost of doing business: Monsanto pays millions in lobbying, but is forced to cut the price of its glyphosate herbicide

GM crop 'approval' -- or not: The Canola Council opposes assessment of the market effects of GMOs, hopes that the EU will change its attitude to GE. Seed growers are concerned about the effects of contamination.
Superweed Arms Race: Chemical companies are happy that there is now a new opportunity for their deadly agrotoxins, if they can engineer crops to resist them
Pre-Polluted infants: US President's Cancer Panel blames lax regulation for the contamination of human babies
Summer Reading: Two new papers well worth a look

Real Cheese? Kraft and Saputo are appealing a ruling that limits the amount of 'modified milk ingredients' they can use in their cheese
Golf courses = Agriculture: A new report from California suggests that because golf courses make more money than farms, they should have priority in water allocations
'Balanced' ecosystems control pests: Research confirms on-ground observations that when farmers target pests, the balance  of predators and pathogens is altered, creating a worse situation.

 

PDF#273, May 2010: Being a Consumer

 Table of Contents

 Being a Consumer: Choice and responsibility in the marketplace - buying socks at The Bay vs. buying food at the farmers' market; and the People's Food Policy Project: how do we determine the choices available instead of just choosing between what is on offer?
HAITI:
No end to the colonialism: Clinton and others are following an old pattern
Giant predator Monsanto moves on Haiti: Apparently generous donations of seed to Haitian farmers has strings: they are hybrids and require fertilizers etc. which will -- at first -- be provided for free.
On the Ground: The donated seeds are also treated with deadly fungicides which in the USA require special protective clothing for anyone handling them.
Seed Assessment: A rapid assessment of the Haitian situation concludes that local seeds are available and repeated seed distributions can have profound negative effects.
The colony of Puerto Rico: Coincidentally, the GM cassava fields are next door to the military installation.
Real Cost of Closing Prison Farms: Latest figures show that the government will be spending almost $1million to replace just the milk being produced at Frontenac Institution, without calculating the eggs produced for the prison and the local food bank. Plus the new contract could be filled anywhere in North America under NAFTA.
Urban Farms: The blighted inner-city of Detroit is home to hundreds of urban gardens. Now corporate investors are getting in on the act.
No labelling, No choice: The biotech industry's lobbying for no labelling is paying off as contamination by GE crops spreads.
How Africa is being contaminated: South Africa is dumping GE corn in the rest of the continent
The African Century: Corporate interests are working to remake Africa in their own image.
Creating Dependency: The distribution of GE seed in Africa is compared to Nestle's strategy of free formula, at least until the mothers' breast milk dries up.

 

 #272, April 2010:  World Fertilizer Cartel

  PDF

Table of Contents

 World Fertilizer Cartel: We examine the history and current state of synthetic fertilizers, the corporations who push them, and the link with war and violence
Supreme Leader?: Stephen Harper ignores the public, Parliament, and the Supreme Court and moves to curtail the environmental assessment process
Renewable Energy Scam: New Regulations will enforce 5% ethanol content in fuels, despite the fact they do not help curb greenhouse gases. The public has 60 days to comment
Cradle-to-Grave Ownership? Monsanto fails in a move to extend its patents to products processed from its patented soy
Inequity: The senior executives of the financial sector could probably pay off the government deficit out of their pay and bonuses
Genetically Modified Food Resistance: Peru, Switzerland, and Bulgaria all act to limit spread of GMOs
Prince Edward Island: Opposition party leader calls for a whole-scale conversion to organics in order to save PEI agriculture, startng with a ban on GM crops
Consumer Challenges: A new boycott of Kraft in the wake of their takeover of Cadbury's; Tommy Hilfiger buys Phillips-Van Heusen (but the clothing is still made by displaced peasant farmers); PepsiCo touting 'healthier' product lines
India's Eggplant: the Drama of Bt Brinjal: Indian Environment Minister says "there is no hurry" to release Bt brinjal. India happens to be the country of origin for brinjal
There is 'science' and there is science: the Indian Council of Agricultural Research shows that peasant methods are as effective as chemicals in controlling the root and shoot borer; GE techniques are unnecessary
Genet-News: A reliable and comprehensive source
Triffid: In response to widespread contamination of seed stocks, the Canadian flax industry hopes to change customers' rules.

 

#271, February - March 2010:  Inequity and Progress

 PDFTable of Contents

Inequity and Progress: Both of these ideas signify linear progress. Following the visionary artist Hundertwasser who declared war on the straight line, we question the imposition of a singular model of Development and Progress
Haiti offers an opportunity for either straight-line or multi-faceted diverse strategies
'Progress' in Brazil: approving a herbicide-tolerant GM soya to solve the problems left behind by another herbicide-tolerant GM soya; 
More GE crops, more agrotoxins
"Geosphere People": Rich countries are like bio-pirates; they are geosphere people as opposed to the "ecosystem people' who depend directly on local resources for their livelihoods
Celebrating Zapotec Maize vs. the Geopirates: People rooted in their cultural practices and customs expel biopirates and celebrate their indigenous corn-based culture and food sovereignty
Less energy, more food:
Ethanol makers depend on subsidies;
Husky Energy background;
report on uses of grain stocks
Culling Hogs: looks more like clear-cutting than culling
Pharming, it's called: breast-milk substitutes from mice, rabbits with human genes
More - or less - GE: increase in non-GE soy varieties
US 'Exploits' African Seed: a seed variety held in trust is found to be patented, in violation of the trust
Crunching the Numbers: Walmart says it will create jobs in suburban locations in Canada, but the company has laid off workers in Canada and destroyed many jobs in small businesses.


#270, January 2010 : The Financial Sector Is Not An Economy PDF

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Table of Contents

The Financial Sector Is Not An Economy - The financiers playing with, and preying on, the rise and fall of the markets, are helping create rising inequity. The 'development' model follows the same model.
Eliminating Diversity - in paper for printing, seeds, dairy ...
Ecological Absurdity - shipping hay from Ontario to Saudi Arabia!<
Climate Change - in the midst of the Copenhagen meetings, looking at the relation between sustainable agriculture and climate; also: The Angry Mermaid award goes to Monsanto
More on Monsanto: The real cost of GE seeds; A Questionable Legacy (Norman Borlaug as the spiritual father of Monsanto)
Who's Who in Biotech Seeds - a current list of the main players
Fish in Your Garden - Growing Power in Milwaukee has a unique and provocative urban agriculture set-up which includes raising fish in the inner city
Big Sky and small farms - Saskatchewan's largest pork producer folds its tents, leaving little for its farmer-suppliers
Tory spending makes priorities clear - cuts to food inspection staff and environmental programs

Issue 277: The Food Movement: From reform to revolution?

The Food Movement: From reform to revolution?

#277, November 2010

 PDFPlease Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Table of Contents

The Food Movement: From reform to revolution? How Big Food   is trying to take over the food movement, and the core values which are being defended in the struggle
Biotech in Europe: Europeans remain suspicious of genetically engineered foods; The European Food Safety Authority toughens assessment procedures
South Africa's corn glut: Lots of GM corn but few buyers.
Won't - or can't - stand still: Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass creeps a long way; the widespread distribution of GM flax is "an unsolved mystery"
Truth in packaging: Polystyrene is possibly carcinogenic, so is plastic made from GM corn an improvement?
Japan eager for PEI's non-GMO canola
"The choosing experience": Companies improve profits by deleting product lines

HAITI: Security for What? We reflect on the obsession of the Harper government and others with 'security'
Canada's Aid to Haiti: Building jails, equipping police, and building homes (and an embassy) for its diplomate
Land: Two different stories: the potato industry eyes fragile land designated for conservation; 100 miles of shelter belts in Saskatchewan are cleared to increase 'productivity' of machinery operators
What Price Healthy Rivers? A report from Stephen Leahy on the effects of damming rivers

Anniversary: The Ram's Horn is now 30 years old - worth supporting, don't you think?

 

2009

Table of Contents


January 2009 to September 2009

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to read the feature article of that issue by clicking on the red titles. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please contact us for a subscription or sample copy. We can also help with serious research. See also our Current Issue page.

 

#268: October-November 2009 TOC pdf 
Climate Leadership? - PM Harper seems determined to do nothing to address the world's greatest crisis
More pork, more contradictions - The pork producers' aid program is not likely to help much
Three Sisters and Friends - Henry Lickers draws out lessons from traditional Indigenous agriculture
Half-Baked Potato Turned Back - South Africa has rejected GM potatoes, citing inadequate testing
The Meaning of Monoculture - McDonald's governs the varieties commercial potato farmers must grow
Dealing with distancing and energy - A grain CSA is shipping in sailboats across Kootenay Lake in BC
In other shipping news - US soy is turned away from European ports on reports of GM contamination
Maui bans GE Taro - Citing the cultural importance of taro, Maui rejects GE
Big Meat - More mergers, this time JBS SA (Brazil) taking over US Pilgrim's Pride
Meat Safety from Apples - A new edible film is claimed to stop pathogenic bacteria on meat surfaces
India suspends approval of GE brinjal - A GM brinjal (eggplant) has been delayed
Electronic vs. paper - Subscribers can choose either (or both) versions of the Ram's Horn.
Students Wanted - by the organic agriculture curriculum at the University of Guelph
Lobbying - Immense spending by pharmaceutical industry

#267: September 2009 TOC pdf 
The Tyranny of Rights: introducing Brewster's new book
Roundup Kills -- weeds, and much more: new research shows that the so-called inert ingredients in Roundup are even more harmful than the glyphosate
    Publish and ... :Argentinian scientist is viciously attacked for exposing effects of glyphosate spray on people
    More and more: more soy, more glyphosate
    Carry On Regardless: Dow and Monsanto continue to get approval of their new GE crops
Smarter Than They Look: apparently lambs can self-medicate
"Mother Nature Is A Bad Person": according to persistent organic deniers Denis and Alex Avery
    Review of interesting work by The Nature Institute on the Goethean approach to science: much more respectful!
Spreading Triffid: 8 years ago we reported Alan McHughen's flamboyantly self-serving release of GE flax; now Canadian farmers stand to lose their most inportant markets
Cargill: information webs; bioplastics; attitude to organic and sustainable agriculture
Tapping into Bottled Water: more on Nestle's attempts to brand bottles as sustainable
Get Rich Quick: 35% return promised on investment in agricultural land.

#266: August 2009 TOC sites/ramshorn.ca/files/rh-266%20web.pdfpdf 
Not Quite the Whole Hog: analysis of the Government's bail-out of the failing hog industry
Look But Don't Touch: Scientific American calls for open research on patented varieties
Fighting Food Terror: Kerala (India) State Ag. Minister calls for defense against 'greedy corporates'
and Supporting Organics: Brazilian Ministry of Ag booklet critiquing GM is distributed by civil society
We indulge in Schadenfreude: as Nestle's bottled water business declines
Making Promises Sound Like Facts: Washington University teams up with Gates foundation to save Africa again
Antibiotic Resistant Salmonella Recall: Cargill subsidiary BPI has to recall beef due to salmonella, also faces animal-handling charges
Consumers lose trust: IBM survey reports US consumers do not trust food companies
New GM Corn Not Tested: Globe & Mail report on "SmartStax" from Monsanto/Dow
Monsanto Business Plan: Keep Roundup prices high despite market share loss, look to GM seeds as profit centre
Cokecolonization: Coke doubles investment in China, its third-largest market
Colonization by Monsanto: teaching Indian farmers how to go into debt
Myth of Enhanced Yields: New study shows Bt Cotton performs poorly in India; company blames bad weather
No Yields: Colombian cotton growers face huge crop losses, want to sue Monsanto
Fake Real Food or Real Fake Food: analysis of Hellman's "Eat Real Local"
website and campaign
Improvements?: Monsanto and Dole are working on 'improving' vegetable varieties

#265: June 2009 TOC pdf 
Prison Farms: Corrections Canada is determined to close six prison farms which provide training and fresh food to the prisoners
Ontario Organic Turkey: outcry over a new regulation forcing turkey farmers to keep their birds in confinement
How Sweet It Is: Cargill wins at every turn with natural and artificial sweeteners
Roundup Time: Chinese herbicides are cutting into Monsanto's profits
Love the Language!: Monsanto describes Monsanto
A peoples' victory over Monsanto: South Africa: an environmental group does not have to pay court costs in suit against Monsanto
Labour-intensive farming boosts development: conclusions of an"Agribusiness Forum" in South Africa
Outside the Box: Venezuelan President Chavez disrespects Tetra Pak's patents
On the menu: Brazilian Amazon forest beef or Canadian grain-fed
(feed-lot) beef: not much of a choice, is it?
Uncivilized Behaviour from Dow: Dow is pushing 2,4D in Brazil -- a compound which is was part of the infamous 'Agent Orange'
GMO Corn & Soy: Negligible Yield Increases: a new independent study shows that genetic engineering doesn't really increase yields

#264: May 2009 TOC pdf 
Silencing Spring: Canadian government has taken 25 years to act against a toxic chemical
Serious Seeds: Patrick Steiner writes about the increase in independent seed business
Don't blame the pigs!: Cathy Holtslander explains how factory farming is the clear cause of diseases such as swine flu
Dying Hog Industry Asks for a Billion: Paul Beingessner describes the decline in pig farming after decades of financial disaster
Billionaires' greed: CEOs continue to rip off immense compensations
Kerala labourers return from Dubai: the loss of migrant jobs threatens poor communities
Full Cost-Accounting: Corn-based ethanol uses 50 gallons of water per mile driven
Meat Packers Update: Competition Bureau has no trouble with only two corporations in meat packing
Germany Bans Cultivation of Monsanto GM Maize: courts take the precautionary approach
Imposing a Business Model: AGRA is described as a way to build agri-business in Africa, not sustainable food production
Fumigating Argentina: the use of glyphosate on GE soy is creating a health catastrophe in the rural sector
"Transgenic treadmill": Glyphosate resistant johnsongrass is forcing more dependence on agri-technology
Brazil's Coffee Crop Threatened: climate change on top of the economic crisis will reduce Brazil's agriculture capacity

#263: March/April 2009 TOC pdf 
Signs of spring: and hope in the resurgence of interest and action to create a sustainable local food system
Promises and Propaganda: EuropaBio says biotech promises to solve water problems
- Following the footsteps of tobacco: looking at the biotech propaganda strategies
- The complete propaganda machine: Monsanto enters the blogosphere (to control the messaging, of course)
- Monsanto funds scholarships and a journalism training course
- University of Regina associate dean shills for biotech
- Ingo Potrykus continues to seek Vatican blessing for biotech Growing
Resistance: A message from Kenya in support of the resilience of local varieties
- Mexico City to protect historic maize varieties
- Brazil Soy State loses taste for GMO seed
- Non-GE soy demand growing North and South
Sweet Treats:
- Industrial Gelato
- Industrial Ice Cream
Farmworkers: a story from tomato central, Immokalee Floride
"Changing the Vocation of the Land": Venezuela's Chavez moves to protect environment

#262: February 2009 TOC pdf 
Three Blind Mice:: Sarah Martin explores the three giants in the institutional foodservice business
Cheese [made from milk] Please: The Big Three cheesemakers object to a ruling that cheese must be made mostly out of real milk
Marketing:
    New CWB executive changes tack: government-appointed CEO now admits that the CWB plays an important role for farmers
    Profits - but not for the farmers: Viterra posts a record profit as a private corporation
    And more agrifuels subsidies
DNA Testing for Adulteration: UK researchers can now identify pure Basmati rice
Not a Straight Line: UK author says development is complex
Sohpisticated Science: Kenyan organization researches pest and vector management for pest control
Plant breeding in China: Scientists use non-invasive genetic technologies
The Taro Story (cont.): Hawaiian legislators are trying to protect the crop which is sacred to Native Hawaiians
Crop destruction in Gaza: Economic and military siege of Gaza has contaminated and destroyed land and water sources
Cooking the GMO Books: Friends of the Earth unmask the industry front group, ISAAA
A More Reliable Source: IFOAM reports an increase in organic food production
rBGH failing: New England dairy industry rejects the growth hormone

#261: January 2009 TOC pdf 
Growth, Energy and Food: Brewster reflects on distancing in energy policy
The Seed Policy Project: a new initiative towards seed sovereignty in Canada
GMO-free Ice Cream: an opportunity for an Irish dairy
Guns and Peanut butter: a BMJ article on misguided food policy regarding allergens
Global sourcing: shipping by sea is cheaper than overland, even if it means importing from overseas
GMO-free food and feed: Japanese seek non-GMO seeds, while the Western Canadian Wheat Growers tout GMOs
Seaweed shortage: due to over-exploitation or climate change?
Financial Crisis: Monsanto loses in recession
Cargill goes public, sweetly: the company is advertising its new sweetener to the public
Stevia gets USFDA go-ahead: stevia extract is classified as 95% purity
The ABCD of Global Agriculture: ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus in China
Need to Stretch: laying hens in cages
GM crops only a fraction of primary global crop production: despite claims by Monsanto et. al. GM crops are not widely popular


 

November 2008 to December 2009

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to download the whole issue by clicking on the icon. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

 

#269, December 2009 TOC 
Food and Population - it's not that there are too many of "them", it's that we are systematically robbing them of the capacity to feed themselves
Eliminating Diversity - in paper for printing, seeds, dairy ...
Ecological Absurdity - shipping hay from Ontario to Saudi Arabia!
Climate Change - in the midst of the Copenhagen meetings, looking at the relation between sustainable agriculture and climate; also: The Angry Mermaid award goes to Monsanto
More on Monsanto:The real cost of GE seeds; A Questionable Legacy (Norman Borlaug as the spiritual father of Monsanto)
Who's Who in Biotech Seeds - a current list of the main players
Fish in Your Garden - Growing Power in Milwaukee has a unique and provocative urban agriculture set-up which includes raising fish in the inner city
Big Sky and small farms - Saskatchewan's largest pork producer folds its tents, leaving little for its farmer-suppliers
Tory spending makes priorities clear - cuts to food inspection staff and environmental programs

#268: October-November 2009 TOC pdf
Climate Leadership? - PM Harper seems determined to do nothing to address the world's greatest crisis
More pork, more contradictions - The pork producers' aid program is not likely to help much
Three Sisters and Friends - Henry Lickers draws out lessons from traditional Indigenous agriculture
Half-Baked Potato Turned Back - South Africa has rejected GM potatoes, citing inadequate testing
The Meaning of Monoculture - McDonald's governs the varieties commercial potato farmers must grow
Dealing with distancing and energy - A grain CSA is shipping in sailboats across Kootenay Lake in BC
In other shipping news - US soy is turned away from European ports on reports of GM contamination
Maui bans GE Taro - Citing the cultural importance of taro, Maui rejects GE
Big Meat - More mergers, this time JBS SA (Brazil) taking over US Pilgrim's Pride
Meat Safety from Apples - A new edible film is claimed to stop pathogenic bacteria on meat surfaces
India suspends approval of GE brinjal - A GM brinjal (eggplant) has been delayed
Electronic vs. paper - Subscribers can choose either (or both) versions of the Ram's Horn.
Students Wanted - by the organic agriculture curriculum at the University of Guelph
Lobbying - Immense spending by pharmaceutical industry

#267: September 2009 TOC pdf
The Tyranny of Rights: introducing Brewster's new book
Roundup Kills -- weeds, and much more: new research shows that the so-called inert ingredients in Roundup are even more harmful than the glyphosate
    Publish and ... :Argentinian scientist is viciously attacked for exposing effects of glyphosate spray on people
    More and more: more soy, more glyphosate
    Carry On Regardless: Dow and Monsanto continue to get approval of their new GE crops
Smarter Than They Look: apparently lambs can self-medicate
"Mother Nature Is A Bad Person": according to persistent organic deniers Denis and Alex Avery
    Review of interesting work by The Nature Institute on the Goethean approach to science: much more respectful!
Spreading Triffid: 8 years ago we reported Alan McHughen's flamboyantly self-serving release of GE flax; now Canadian farmers stand to lose their most inportant markets
Cargill: information webs; bioplastics; attitude to organic and sustainable agriculture
Tapping into Bottled Water: more on Nestle's attempts to brand bottles as sustainable
Get Rich Quick: 35% return promised on investment in agricultural land.

#266: August 2009 TOC pdf
Not Quite the Whole Hog: analysis of the Government's bail-out of the failing hog industry
Look But Don't Touch: Scientific American calls for open research on patented varieties
Fighting Food Terror: Kerala (India) State Ag. Minister calls for defense against 'greedy corporates'
and Supporting Organics: Brazilian Ministry of Ag booklet critiquing GM is distributed by civil society
We indulge in Schadenfreude: as Nestle's bottled water business declines
Making Promises Sound Like Facts: Washington University teams up with Gates foundation to save Africa again
Antibiotic Resistant Salmonella Recall: Cargill subsidiary BPI has to recall beef due to salmonella, also faces animal-handling charges
Consumers lose trust: IBM survey reports US consumers do not trust food companies
New GM Corn Not Tested: Globe & Mail report on "SmartStax" from Monsanto/Dow
Monsanto Business Plan: Keep Roundup prices high despite market share loss, look to GM seeds as profit centre
Cokecolonization: Coke doubles investment in China, its third-largest market
Colonization by Monsanto: teaching Indian farmers how to go into debt
Myth of Enhanced Yields: New study shows Bt Cotton performs poorly in India; company blames bad weather
No Yields: Colombian cotton growers face huge crop losses, want to sue Monsanto
Fake Real Food or Real Fake Food: analysis of Hellman's "Eat Real Local"
website and campaign
Improvements?: Monsanto and Dole are working on 'improving' vegetable varieties

#265: June 2009 TOC pdf
Prison Farms: Corrections Canada is determined to close six prison farms which provide training and fresh food to the prisoners
Ontario Organic Turkey: outcry over a new regulation forcing turkey farmers to keep their birds in confinement
How Sweet It Is: Cargill wins at every turn with natural and artificial sweeteners
Roundup Time: Chinese herbicides are cutting into Monsanto's profits
Love the Language!: Monsanto describes Monsanto
A peoples' victory over Monsanto: South Africa: an environmental group does not have to pay court costs in suit against Monsanto
Labour-intensive farming boosts development: conclusions of an"Agribusiness Forum" in South Africa
Outside the Box: Venezuelan President Chavez disrespects Tetra Pak's patents
On the menu: Brazilian Amazon forest beef or Canadian grain-fed
(feed-lot) beef: not much of a choice, is it?
Uncivilized Behaviour from Dow: Dow is pushing 2,4D in Brazil -- a compound which is was part of the infamous 'Agent Orange'
GMO Corn & Soy: Negligible Yield Increases: a new independent study shows that genetic engineering doesn't really increase yields

#264: May 2009 TOC pdf
Silencing Spring: Canadian government has taken 25 years to act against a toxic chemical
Serious Seeds: Patrick Steiner writes about the increase in independent seed business
Don't blame the pigs!: Cathy Holtslander explains how factory farming is the clear cause of diseases such as swine flu
Dying Hog Industry Asks for a Billion: Paul Beingessner describes the decline in pig farming after decades of financial disaster
Billionaires' greed: CEOs continue to rip off immense compensations
Kerala labourers return from Dubai: the loss of migrant jobs threatens poor communities
Full Cost-Accounting: Corn-based ethanol uses 50 gallons of water per mile driven
Meat Packers Update: Competition Bureau has no trouble with only two corporations in meat packing
Germany Bans Cultivation of Monsanto GM Maize: courts take the precautionary approach
Imposing a Business Model: AGRA is described as a way to build agri-business in Africa, not sustainable food production
Fumigating Argentina: the use of glyphosate on GE soy is creating a health catastrophe in the rural sector
"Transgenic treadmill": Glyphosate resistant johnsongrass is forcing more dependence on agri-technology
Brazil's Coffee Crop Threatened: climate change on top of the economic crisis will reduce Brazil's agriculture capacity

#263: March/April 2009 TOC pdf
Signs of spring: and hope in the resurgence of interest and action to create a sustainable local food system

#262: February 2009 TOC pdf
Three Blind Mice: Sarah Martin explores the three giants in the institutional foodservice business

#261: January 2009 TOC pdf
Growth, Energy and Food: Brewster reflects on distancing in energy policy

#260: November 2008 TOC pdf
Reclaim the Food System! - Cathleen reports on the National Assembly of Food Secure Canada The Hunger Count - Food Banks Canada reports steady numbers at food banks, more groups serving hot meals

Issue 261: January 2009

 Growth, Energy and Food

by Brewster Kneen

The first issue of The Ram’s Horn appeared in November, 1980. That means we are beginning our 29th full year of publication. Much has changed. Not enough has changed. Our governments and the economic wizards still believe in the mindless magic of ‘productivity’ and ‘economic growth’ (growth of the money economy as counted by the Gross Domestic Product). They appear to actually believe that economic growth is both good and absolutely essential if we are to survive as energy-bloated competitive individuals. They don’t evidence much concern about the destruction of society and environmental collapse.

In 1989 my first book was published – From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System. After two sold out print runs I revised and expanded the book to take into account the changes that had occurred between 1989 and 1993, when From Land to Mouth: Second Helping came out. Since then, the distance between the ‘family-community’ side and the corporate side of the food system has grown into a grand canyon.

On the local food side we are seeing the construction of energy efficient, ecologically sensitive food systems that observe our slogan, ‘feed the family and trade the leftovers,’ while on the corporate side we now have three mega-corps (not the same three in all cases, and 20 years ago it was six) dominating and determining on a global scale seeds, fertilizers, agrotoxins, processing (from commodity to consumer end) and distribution-retailing. 

While this corporate side claims to be efficient, it does not take more than a world map to observe the geographic distances that agricultural commodities move, from field to terminal (inland or seaport), from export terminal to import terminal to central distribution warehouse to retail. All this travel in high-energy transport (except by sea) is anything but efficient, nor are all the warehousing and processing facilities unless you really do believe in efficiencies of scale and ignore all the externalized costs of environmental destruction, energy source depletion, pollution, and social disruption and community destruction – worldwide.

Next time you visit  – or drive by – a shopping mall plus superstore (or two), pause to consider the parking lot and what it contains and represents, besides a huge public subsidy for the mall owner.

   chasm

‘Distancing’ was the term I came up with to describe the global food system in 1989, and it is distancing that I just described. When I finished the first draft of From Land To Mouth, our son Jamie said, so what’s the alternative? 

I thought about that and came up with ‘proximity,’ and that is obviously descriptive of what is guiding developing local food systems around the world, from Japan’s million-member Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative (SCCC) to the farmers’ markets in Ottawa. We can all be encouraged by the changes taking place on the one side even as we work against the consolidation and domination on the ‘Dark Side’.

Now with the spectacular failure of the economy of capitalism, it should be easier to think about efficiency and sufficiency – what Maria Mies termed “the subsistence perspective” – or what we might describe as an economy of enough for all. This is the alternative to the global social and physical destruction being wrought by economic growth and the industrial food system. We – the world – can no longer afford to operate such an incredibly inefficient economic system that requires so much energy to produce too much for too few while profoundly disturbing the atmospheric climate we all live in.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the current government of Canada has any understanding of all this – that we must halt economic growth and instead start building a society based on sufficiency, (‘enoughness’), greatly reduced energy consumption in any and every form, and ecological sensitivity.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted (when he was last addressing Canadians publicly) that environmental issues could not be dealt with at the expense of the economy: “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.” His new Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, said that “balancing our responsibilities as stewards of the environment, on the one hand, and our responsibilities to protect and enhance the Canadian economy on the other” are the most challenging issues he’s seen. A couple of weeks later he brightly said, “climate-change pressures are unlikely to fade.” Of course this does not mean that he will let those pressures affect government policy of putting economic growth first. – G&M, 31/10/08, 30/12/08

“Sticking with an economic model that is driving toward ecological catastrophe will kill us,” wrote Peter Brown and Geoffrey Garver in the Toronto Star, “so it is essential to address the financial and ecological crises together.” They came to a rather different conclusion than Prentice, though: “We must recognize that the economy is part of the biosphere” and that “the global economy is a subsidiary of the natural order. . . Economic policy must promote not more affluence as currently defined, but more sufficiency for all Canadians.” – www.thestar.com/ 26/12/08

Noise output is one way to measure efficiency.  Think of the noise a bicycle makes on its way to the farmers’ market compared to that of an automobile – or the 18-wheeler full of produce from California headed to the supermarket. Of course, walking (especially barefoot) need not make any noise at all and does not require any equipment that consumed energy in its manufacture. In between the bike and the truck there could be electric trams and a subway. Remember, noise = energy. Can you hear your garden growing? Now think quietly about the energy it will produce when eaten.

Now, as our growth-economy crumbles, we are faced with a tremendous opportunity to trade it in for a model that works for everyone, not just an elite at the globe’s expense. But we face a huge lobbying effort by energy interests, such as the Alberta oilsands investors and the automobile industry, including, sadly, the leaders of the auto workers union.

Offering bailouts to keep the dinosaur auto industry alive so it can continue to destroy our cities and pollute the environment, while offering massive subsidies to the oil sands to supply fuel for the cars may appear to serve the purposes of the growth economy, but we would all be better off if no new automobiles were produced for at least one year, and then only cars that meet the most stringent pollution controls and fuel economy standards. The ‘buzz’ about the new electric cars conveniently ignores where the electricity is generated. It’s really only moving fuel consumption somewhere else. What we have to do is radically reduce it.

dino auto

In the meantime, the auto workers could learn to repair machinery (including cars) and build interesting and useful new equipment just like farmers have always done. On the side, the auto workers – along with their neighbours – could engage in non-profit food production in their own backyards and community gardens.

The federal government, for its part, could redirect the corporate bailout funds to community projects such as all-weather bike paths so the former autoworkers could keep their aging autos in storage while auto-recycling facilities are developed with some of the federal funds.

 

#261: January 2009 TOC
Growth, Energy and Food: Brewster reflects on distancing in energy policy
The Seed Policy Project: a new initiative towards seed sovereignty in Canada
GMO-free Ice Cream: an opportunity for an Irish dairy
Guns and Peanut butter: a BMJ article on misguided food policy regarding allergens
Global sourcing: shipping by sea is cheaper than overland, even if it means importing from overseas
GMO-free food and feed: Japanese seek non-GMO seeds, while the Western Canadian Wheat Growers tout GMOs
Seaweed shortage: due to over-exploitation or climate change?
Financial Crisis: Monsanto loses in recession
Cargill goes public, sweetly: the company is advertising its new sweetener to the public
Stevia gets USFDA go-ahead: stevia extract is classified as 95% purity
The ABCD of Global Agriculture: ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus in China
Need to Stretch: laying hens in cages
GM crops only a fraction of primary global crop production: despite claims by Monsanto et. al. GM crops are not widely popular

 

 

Issue 262: February 2009

 Three Blind Mice

In the first edition (1989) of From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System, Brewster wrote that six corporations in a sector seemed to be the lowest number for a ‘sustainable oligopoly’. That number now seems to have dropped to three (though some sectors still entertain more than that), for example: Kraft-Saputo-Parmalat (dairy), Cargill-ADM-Bunge (grain), Nestlé-PepsiCo-Kraft (food & beverage), Monsanto-DuPont-Syngenta (seeds), (Hewlitt-Packard-IBM-Microsoft (computing), Aramark-Compass-Sodexo (food service). . . 
       – for more, go to www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=707

Industrial feeding

Edited and adapted from the thesis research of Sarah Martin, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University

3 blind miceToday the institutional food service sector is overwhelmingly dominated by three transnational corporations: Aramark, headquartered in Philadelphia, Compass, in London and Sodexho, in Paris. All three corporations have undergone massive growth since the Second World War due to industry consolidation and public agencies, including hospitals and schools, contracting out their food services. The sales for the sector are estimated to be over US$234 billion annually worldwide.

Institutional foodservices are located primarily in workplaces and educational and healthcare facilities. The Canadian institutional foodservice market makes up just over 2% of the total global market with $5.2 billion in sales. It fills 32.7% of the total foodservice market in Canada, higher than fast food at 23.3% but lower than cafes and restaurants at 42.9%. However, its growth rate has far outstripped all other foodservice areas, and this trend is expected to continue, especially  with universities and colleges; in 2006 the educational sector generated 40% of institutional food’s total value, and the healthcare sector followed with 28%.

Institutional foodservice really got underway during the Second World War, when “proper feeding stations” were installed in factories to counter the war-time loss of labour, resulting in increased production, fewer accidents and mistakes and a claim of up to 300% savings in production costs. The government provided “industrial feeding specialists” to assist companies in improving food facilities, especially targeting larger plants, such as shipyards and aircraft plants (with a Boeing plant reporting simultaneous feeding of 30,000 employees). It was also a new avenue for moving unexpected agricultural surpluses, and surplus that had been previously sent to relief agencies was now shifted to the industrial sector.

In 1941, Canada created the Nutrition Service as part of the Department of Pensions and National Health. The first function of the service was to “study the food facilities in defence industries from a nutritional viewpoint, and to suggest improvements where possible.” Thus a precedent was set for government involvement in  population nutrition.

. . .  See How They Run  . . .

The two founders of Aramark met in a Second World War aircraft plant because they both had contracts to supply peanut vending machines to Douglas Aircraft. Dave Davidson and Bill Fishman of the Automatic Merchandising Company, both signed contracts to supply Douglas Aircraft plants in Santa Monica and Chicago during the Second World War. Davidson was moving his machines from retail outlets to factories and offices in Chicago, and Fishman was attempting to transform his vending operation into a food service operation. The two owners individually tried throughout the 1950s to expand into food services but were unsuccessful. However, they merged the two companies in 1959 into the Automatic Retailers of America, (ARA), and from this position were able to consolidate their holdings and buy more than 150 vending companies between 1959 and 1964. The expansion included the purchase of Slater Systems, a “manual” (as opposed to automatic) foodservice operator; they then bought a company that specialized in institutional markets such as college and university cafeterias.

ARA continued moving into new service areas including nursing homes and magazine distribution companies. By 1964 they were operating over 750 manual food operations and began an aggressive expansion into airline catering, periodical sales, resort management and laundry services among others. Despite several run-ins with the  Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for market monopoly and price-fixing, ARA continued to expand by buying up smaller service companies, for example, laundry, trucking and daycare, along with new services like airline catering. During the late 1970s the company began to expand into Europe and Canada and became the largest food services company in the Canada with the purchase of VS Services. New management in the 1980s in the 1990s changed ARA’s name to Aramark and the food services division, in particular began to prosper.

As in Canada, the British government legislated industrial feeding facilities and programs during the Second World War. In 1967, Factory Canteens was bought by Grand Metropolitan, a food and spirits company, and spun it off into Compass Group in 1987. Compass began with the goal to become the world’s largest foodservice corporation which began with the acquisition of railway caterers, airline catering and Canteen Corp, the third largest vending and foodservice company in the US in the early 1990s. By purchasing Eurest Compass in 1995, Compass met its goal and became the largest food service organization in the world.

Farmer's WifeAt this point all three corporations continued aggressive expansions and bought up smaller dining services. For example, Compass was able to gain large contracts like IBM and secure advantageous terms from suppliers. Sodexho moved into prison management in the US, bought the largest British catering firm, and in 1998 bought the foodservice arm of Marriott. Along with the entire institutional foodservice sector Compass has experienced “record expansion” including new sites in Africa, and purchasing Brazil’s largest caterer. In Canada, as market leader it is forecast to have sales of $1.1billion. In addition to its position as the world’s largest foodservice corporation, Compass is now the seventh largest employer in the world.

Sodexho (now Sodexo), for its part, promotes itself as an important player in the fight against hunger, and was one of the  corporate sponsors of the US Community Food Security Coalition’s conference last fall.

 

 

#262: February 2009 TOC
Three Blind Mice:: Sarah Martin explores the three giants in the institutional foodservice business
Cheese [made from milk] Please: The Big Three cheesemakers object to a ruling that cheese must be made mostly out of real milk
Marketing:
    New CWB executive changes tack: government-appointed CEO now admits that the CWB plays an important role for farmers
    Profits - but not for the farmers: Viterra posts a record profit as a private corporation
    And more agrifuels subsidies
DNA Testing for Adulteration: UK researchers can now identify pure Basmati rice
Not a Straight Line: UK author says development is complex
Sohpisticated Science: Kenyan organization researches pest and vector management for pest control
Plant breeding in China: Scientists use non-invasive genetic technologies
The Taro Story (cont.): Hawaiian legislators are trying to protect the crop which is sacred to Native Hawaiians
Crop destruction in Gaza: Economic and military siege of Gaza has contaminated and destroyed land and water sources
Cooking the GMO Books: Friends of the Earth unmask the industry front group, ISAAA
A More Reliable Source: IFOAM reports an increase in organic food production
rBGH failing: New England dairy industry rejects the growth hormone
 

 

 

Issue 263: March/April 2009

 Signs of Spring

Yes, we missed March – slipping a little, what with Cathleen away out west for almost two weeks, and Brewster trying to finish his book, The Tyranny of Rights. Now the promise of Spring is giving the lie to those who think that the meltdown of Capital means the end of the world. Maybe the World As We Know It, but that model is due for a trade-in, anyway.

Most prominent among the signs of Spring in food-related matters is the incredible proliferation of local/regional/organic/holistic foodie activities and projects. Of course as the snow melts we get not just crocuses and returning songbirds, but uncovered dog turds too; and so we also see a concerted, not to say frantic, effort by the biotech industry to claim that it alone holds the keys to the storehouse of food for all.
The messages that appear in the press in various guises (and disguises) bear a striking similarity to one another, as if they were emanating from a central bureau – which they more or less are: the closely-knit ISAAA, BioEuropa, BioteCanada, CropLife, etc. With the wealth of the Rockefeller-Gates-Buffet collegium (philanthrophy oligopoly) behind it, the biotech-agrotoxin-drug industry can well afford to commission and encourage letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, ‘scientific’ statements and so on. This industry campaign bears a striking resemblance to past tobacco industry campaigning in defense of its toxic products, a fact of which they are probably as aware as we are. The spectre of defeat looms large, thanks to the emergence of a public consciousness, around the world, about what is important and necessary – and genetic engineering of food crops accompanied by increased agrotoxin requirements of corporate seeds is not.

crocuses

Nevertheless, that is the panacea being touted to fix the food crisis, the economic crisis, and global warming or climate chaos. When food prices began to skyrocket last year, this was variously attributed to drought in Africa, speculation in food commodities, using foodlands to grow crops for fuel, or an increase in meat consumption in Asia. In addition to the genetic engineering of food crops, the proposed ‘fixes’
include an increase in food aid, increasing food production and bailout of the financial system. None of these, or all of them together, will actually resolve the ‘crisis’ because:

• They do not address the corruption and plunder of capitalism and the failure of capitalism to function according to its own ‘immutable’ laws.

• They do not eliminate or diminish corporate control of global food.

• They do not address climate change and global warming, and will therefore surely exacerbate an already perilous situation.

• They do not put an end to the ideology and pursuit of economic growth that is going to kill us all unless we halt it. An economy of enough – a ‘subsistence perspective’ as Maria Mies put it – must become the rule, personally and politically.

Underlying each of these is energy consumption – and the need to reduce it. Industrial agriculture requires high energy consumption. Economic growth requires increased energy. Corporate control requires high energy consumption due to its high degree of centralization and global sourcing and distribution. Energy consumption causes climate change and global warming.

“Nobody has really thought yet about how and if we can mitigate climate change in agriculture,” admitted Dr Josef Schmidhuber, head of the global perspectives study unit at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicating that although there is a lot of talk about averting the impact of climate change, no policies have been implemented yet to solve the problem.

“It starts and ends with governance, with convincing key decision makers to change strategy,” said Hans Herren, president of the Washington DC-based Millennium Institute. “We know what the solutions to climate change are, but they are not put into practice because governments are in bed with the biotechnology industry. They are more interested in making a quick buck than in the long-term benefits of farmers.” Herren believes industrial agriculture is “bankrupt by definition” because it costs too much energy to produce: “For every calorie you produce you have to put in ten, if you look at fuel, fertilizer and labour needed.” Chemical-heavy agriculture has been systematically destroying soils, says Herren, by causing mineral depletion, erosion and reducing soils’ ability to retain water. “For small-scale farmers, water is far more important than having a pest-resistant, genetically modified plant, which is only resistant to one particular type of pest anyway,” he said.
– IPS, 26/2/09, www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews3D45905

None of which seems to deter the cartel bent on solving the world’s problems by increasing their own control and profit – always couched in the language of sustainability, of course. You could call it The White Man’s Burden version 2.1.

For example, at the fourth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Germany: “CropLife International’s aim is to assist the Parties in implementing the Biosafety Protocol in a way that carefully balances the need for beneficial technology being available to those wishing to use it while avoiding any adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. . . Farmers choose biotech seeds for a wide variety of reasons, from increased production and yield, to improved food quality from crops that are resistant to pests and viruses; from increased income, to reductions in the environmental impacts of agriculture; as well as more predictability and stability in crop production.”
– CropLife International Press Release, 12/3/08

Meanwhile, Swiss-based Syngenta, with more than 24,000 employees in over 90 countries “dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life”, has crawled right up there with Monsanto in its pursuit of control of seeds and food. The company’s CEO, Mike Mack, laid out Syngenta’s corporate philosophy recently: “Our innovative products allow us to unlock the potential of plants, enabling us to do more with less – feed more people, produce more fuel and fibre, while using less water and decreasing the carbon footprint of agriculture,” he claims. Syngenta has, according to Mack, “technology that can provide the solution to the persistent and growing problems in food security and environmental sustainability . . . for us at Syngenta, technology means an entire portfolio of products, techniques and expertise that bring out the best in biotechnology, crop protection products and seed care. . .

“Now is the time to stand firmly behind corn and corn ethanol. . . We simply must keep supporting this crop as corn provides many answers to global agricultural problems. Investing in future corn yields creates healthy markets, successful farmers and food security. . . Plants can be an efficient and truly renewable way of translating the sun’s energy into our gas tanks, and with technology we don’t have to be forced into a no-win choice between growing more food or producing more fuel. . . A great part of the solution isn’t confined to biotech per se, but must include . . . crop protection technologies. This is especially pertinent when discussing climate change, as the application of effective herbicides will be an essential component in a growing trend of conservation tillage agriculture. . .

“There is only one major problem on the horizon: That’s the hostility of regulators in some parts of the world to both biotech and crop protection products . . . This is particularly true in Europe, where governments are beholden to non-governmental organizations and where the discussion of genetically-modified plants is more often based on superstition rather than science. . . If we embrace science, however, we can have a future of bounty – we can feed a growing population and fuel an energy-hungry world economy while protecting the environment.”
– Syngenta Press Release 27/2/09

The insistence that GE is essential for growth of crop productivity (whether fact or fiction matters little) is the big stick used to drive farmers to GE seeds. Corporate control and profit are not mentioned as the primary reason, of course. The fetish of growth will kill us all – whether it’s economic growth or cancer.

“Economists say declining wealth is prompting more Canadians to save money, marking a profound shift in the psyche of a generation that has never seen such a major market correction. . . The concern is that consumers will hamper growth as they cut spending.”
– G&M, 17/3/09, emphasis added.

 

#263: March/April 2009 TOC
Signs of spring: and hope in the resurgence of interest and action to create a sustainable local food system
Promises and Propaganda: EuropaBio says biotech promises to solve water problems
Following the footsteps of tobacco: looking at the biotech propaganda strategies
- The complete propaganda machine: Monsanto enters the blogosphere (to control the messaging, of course)
- Monsanto funds scholarships and a journalism training course
- University of Regina associate dean shills for biotech
-
 Ingo Potrykus continues to seek Vatican blessing for biotech
Growing Resistance: A message from Kenya in support of the resilience of local varieties
- Mexico City to protect historic maize varieties
- Brazil Soy State loses taste for GMO seed
- Non-GE soy demand growing North and South
Sweet Treats:
- Industrial Gelato
- Industrial Ice Cream
Farmworkers: a story from tomato central, Immokalee Floride
"Changing the Vocation of the Land": Venezuela's Chavez moves to protect environment

 

 

 

Issue 264: May 2009

 Silencing Spring

“It is simply a fact that the type of agriculture practiced on the prison farms is totally unrelated to modern high-technology capital intensive agriculture.” – Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, defending the government’s decision to shut down 6 prison farms, WP, 9/4/09

In other words, please don’t maintain any illusions about federal agriculture policy. It’s still stuck in the rut that has characterized federal agriculture policy for the past three decades of neoliberal ideology. The “policy framework” is now styled “Growing Forward” but remains true to the same vision which features, not food for the people of Canada, but “innovation and competitiveness” : “A profitable, innovative, competitive, market-oriented agriculture, agri-foods and agri-based products industry.”

The good news is that we can be assured, because we have been told over and over again by the CFIA, that “Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world.”                     – Press release, 9/2/09

The guy who headed the CFIA when it was established in 1997 as a supposedly autonomous unit of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ron Doering, retired from the CFIA not long ago and now works as a lawyer-lobbyist for the food industry. When asked about the dual role of the CFIA as an industry promoter and regulator, Doering said recently that “it’s like saying a police officer cannot help an elderly person cross the street and then minutes later pull a gun to take down a bad guy”. Doering’s charming turn of phrase fails to reassure us about the CFIA’s dual mandate to promote the food industry and serve the public interest in food quality and safety. It is the CFIA, after all, that has consistently helped Monsanto across the street for more than a decade by refusing to allow non-genetically engineered food to be labelled as such, while training their guns on small-scale, locally-focused abattoirs and food processors.

Monsanto Cop

It should, then, come as no surprise that neither the CFIA nor Health Canada regard agrotoxins in and on our food as a food safety concern.

Snail’s Pace
We got married in 1964, two years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. In 1984, as our children were preparing to leave home for university, a farmer in Saskatchewan reported that the chemical carbofuran was killing birds. “He returned to find the bodies of several thousand Lapland Longspurs dotting the field,” according to a report on the incident by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). The Lapland Longspur is a sparrow-like songbird that breeds in the Arctic and winters in open fields across southern Canada and the United States.

In May 2009, 25 years later, Health Canada finally came out with a proposal to “phase out all uses” of the pesticide, decades after Canadian government officials first learned carbofuran was wiping out everything from flocks of songbirds in the Prairies to eagles in British Columbia. This much belated act was only in response to the ruling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to forbid the sale of any domestic or imported food crops that have traces of  carbofuran, marketed as Furadan.

It’s not that the 1984 report was an isolated incident. In 1993, Agriculture Canada published a special “discussion document” on the chemical that states “carbofuran has one of the highest recorded toxicities to birds of any insecticide registered for use in Canada.” A single grain of carbofuran –  the size of piece of sand –  or a single tainted earthworm can be lethal, the document says. “On the basis of kill rates reported in company studies conducted in cornfields, it can be concluded that the use of granular carbofuran will result in the death of a large proportion of the songbirds breeding in and around treated fields.”

Despite such findings, the government allowed use of the pesticide to continue.

The Globe and Mail tried to interview Pierre Mineau, a research scientist with CWS and one of the world’s leading experts on carbofuran’s environmental impact, but when the newspaper refused to provide questions in advance, Environment Canada officials said Dr. Mineau was not available. Agriculture Canada directed all questions to Health Canada, which declined to provide anyone to be interviewed.

“Health Canada is in the process of preparing a publication on the re-evaluation of carbofuran to be released this summer, which will be proposing to phase out all uses,” Philippe Laroche, a ministry media spokesman, stated in an e-mail. “The re-evaluation of carbofuran indicates that this insecticide poses unacceptable risks to human health and the environment,” he wrote.

Jim Fitzwater, a spokesman for FMC Corp., a Philadelphia company that manufactures carbofuran under the trade nameFuradan{+AE}, said FMC is planning to file an official objection to the EPA ruling, and hopes to have that decision reviewed. He declined to say how much Furadan{+AE} is sold in Canada, but a 1991 report by Health Canada states that between 100,000 and 500,000 kilograms was being used annually on crops. – Globe and Mail, 21/5/09

Sovereignty, eh?
Dow AgroSciences, a US company, is suing the Government of Canada for $2 million in compensation under NAFTA for lost business in response to a ban by the Quebec Government on lawn (non-industrial, cosmetic) pesticides containing 2,4-D. Dow said the Quebec ban was not driven by science but by “political, social or cultural considerations.”  Federal Trade Minister Stockwell Day, responded, “The NAFTA preserves the state’s ability to regulate in the public interest, including public health and environmental issues related to pesticides.” To which Dow countered, “we filed this notice to protect our rights under NAFTA.” In the lawsuit, which is going to a three-member NAFTA arbitration panel, Dow accuses Canada of breaching its obligations under Chapter 11 of NAFTA and seeks damages covering loss of sales, profits, goodwill, investment and other costs related to the products.                                           – Ottawa Citizen, 10/4/09

 

#264: June 2009 TOC
Silencing Spring: Canadian government has taken 25 years to act against a toxic chemical
Serious Seeds: Patrick Steiner writes about the increase in independent seed business
Don't blame the pigs!: Cathy Holtslander explains how factory farming is the clear cause of diseases such as swine flu
Dying Hog Industry Asks for a Billion: Paul Beingessner describes the decline in pig farming after decades of financial disaster
Billionaires' greed: CEOs continue to rip off immense compensations
Kerala labourers return from Dubai: the loss of migrant jobs threatens poor communities
Full Cost-Accounting: Corn-based ethanol uses 50 gallons of water per mile driven
Meat Packers Update: Competition Bureau has no trouble with only two corporations in meat packing
Germany Bans Cultivation of Monsanto GM Maize: courts take the precautionary approach
Imposing a Business Model: AGRA is described as a way to build agri-business in Africa, not sustainable food production
Fumigating Argentina: the use of glyphosate on GE soy is creating a health catastrophe in the rural sector
"Transgenic treadmill": Glyphosate resistant johnsongrass is forcing more dependence on agri-technology
Brazil's Coffee Crop Threatened: climate change on top of the economic crisis will reduce Brazil's agriculture capacity

 

 

Issue 265: June 2009

 Prison Farms

One of the advantages of living in Ottawa (or maybe it’s a disadvantage) is that we are able to go up to Parliament Hill in support of important causes. This can take the form of singing with the Raging Grannies at a wonderful street-theatre demonstration organized by trade unions against the proposed free trade deal with Colombia; being a witness at a House or Senate Committee hearing, or, as I did a couple of weeks ago, appearing at a media event organized by the local National Farmers Union and others to explain why Corrections Canada should not close down the six working farms connected to Canada’s federal prisons.

Announcing the closure plans in April, Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan stated that “the prison farms are set up on a model of agriculture that really reflects the way it worked in the days of the old mixed farm in the 1950s”. He claimed they should be closed because they do not provide relevant employment skills in today’s economy.

Of course this is nonsense, not to mention insulting to the thousands of mixed farmers who have survived Canada’s export-commodity-oriented agriculture policies over the past forty years. They have survived – and are on the verge of a resurgence – because they work, not in terms of an industrial-level wage but in terms of providing wholesome food, healthy environment, and an economic base for their communities. It is certainly a different model than the one that has left us with a polluted environment and an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant, either in terms of the economy or in terms of prisoner rehabilitation. (One does sometimes get the idea that rehabilitation is not the government’s priority – they should really call themselves “Punishment Canada” instead of “Corrections Canada”.)

In fact, these farms are diversified, well equipped and highly respected – they are considered a model in other countries. They produce a range of foods and include facilities which are used by neighbouring farm communities such as egg grading equipment and abattoirs as well as facilities from dairy to greenhouses for their own use. In addition to providing food to their own and other federal institutions, the farms make important local donations – for example, thousands of eggs to the food bank in Kingston. The 300 inmates who work in the farms learn agricultural production and processing, teamwork, reliability and punctuality. They report that working with the animals makes them “calmer”. The nutrition provided to inmates is also important; research in the UK showed that juvenile detainees provided with nutritional supplements showed a 37% reduction in violent incidents.

prisoners    prison turkeys

Mr. Van Loan is now claiming that the farms “cost” the system $4 million a year. It is not clear where this figure comes from. The NFU has asked, and so far received no answers. It seems highly likely that this figure excludes income earmarked for training, and may be related to the potential price of the land on which the farms are located (rumoured to be $2 million for the Kingston site alone). The Federal government is busy trying to sell off any assets it can think of, even if they have to be leased back by government departments, and certainly privatization of both the food service and the prisons themselves would be part of this scenario.

Selling the farm land does not mean that it will continue to be farmed – in fact, quite the opposite. The dairy and poultry operations are outside of the supply-management quota system (since they do not sell on the open market) and any farmer would have to get the necessary quota – a huge hurdle. (see following article) Given the development pressures for these lands, it is highly likely that these lands would be lost to food production, just at the moment when we need to increase our capacity to feed ourselves. – C.K.

For more information and action, go to
www.nfuontario.ca/316/federal-decision-close-prison-farms-canada

 

Ontario Organic Turkey
Turkey Farmers of Ontario is one of the ‘family’ of supply-management marketing boards operating under federal-provincial legislation in Canada. Producers of ‘broiler’ chickens, laying birds, turkeys, and dairy farmers are allocated quota: a permit to produce a certain number of birds or litres of milk or dozens of eggs, designed to ensure that the total amount produced meets the total market demand. There are penalties for under or over-producing. The organizations are also responsible for self-regulation.

When the marketing boards were initially set up, quota was distributed to the then-current operators; since then, quota itself has become a commodity which producers have to buy, either from retiring quota-holders or the marketing boards. The high cost of quota has made it a major capital investment.

Production of eggs, poultry and milk, including organic, outside of the marketing boards is strictly limited by law. As public demand for organically produced food has grown, there have been a number of confrontations between organic farmers and marketing boards (which have appropriated the territory by changing their names to ‘Dairy Farmers of Canada, Turkey Farmers of Ontario’, etc.).

Recently Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO) imposed a rule which requires that “all turkeys must at all times be housed under a solid roof.” The excuse is the theory that avian flu is spread by wild birds so poultry must be kept in confinement to avoid any contact. The newly-minted Canada Organic Standard, however, requires all poultry, including turkeys, to have regular access to outdoors to be certified organic. This means farmers holding turkey quota in Ontario cannot produce turkey that meets the Canadian Organic Standard. Interestingly, this rule only applies to turkey producers who hold quota, not to ‘backyard’ flocks of under 50 birds. The effect of this rule is that organic turkey farmers would be limited to small flocks – a great way to curtail competition for the industrial turkey farmers from free-range organic turkeys.

prison

The Organic Council of Ontario has tried unsuccessfully to work within the regulatory framework to challenge the TFO rule, including direct appeals to the TFO Board, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal and the Farm Products Marketing Commission. OCO has pointed out that there is no reliable evidence linking outdoor husbandry to outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, in fact, all the outbreaks to date have occurred in confinement systems. Experts
in the field of epidemiology say that the supposed link between wild birds and the spread of HPAI is “highly conjectural”. In an attempt at compromise, OCO has asked the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, to intervene and instruct TFO to change the rule from total confinement to require that “all feed and water must be kept under a solid roof”, while the birds themselves can roam.

There are only 186 licensed quota holders for turkey production in Ontario, producing 63,000,000 kg. of turkey each year (45% of Canada’s total production). On average, each of Ontario’s turkey producers has over 30,000 birds. Almost all of this production is in total confinement. The National Poultry Board, of which Turkey Farmers of Ontario is a member, has a declared agenda that all poultry production be moved to total confinement.

 

#265: June 2009 TOC
Prison Farms: Corrections Canada is determined to close six prison farms which provide training and fresh food to the prisoners
Ontario Organic Turkey: outcry over a new regulation forcing turkey farmers to keep their birds in confinement
How Sweet It Is: Cargill wins at every turn with natural and artificial sweeteners
Roundup Time: Chinese herbicides are cutting into Monsanto's profits
Love the Language!: Monsanto describes Monsanto
A peoples' victory over Monsanto: South Africa: an environmental group does not have to pay court costs in suit against Monsanto
Labour-intensive farming boosts development: conclusions of an"Agribusiness Forum" in South Africa
Outside the Box: Venezuelan President Chavez disrespects Tetra Pak's patents
On the menu: Brazilian Amazon forest beef or Canadian grain-fed
(feed-lot) beef: not much of a choice, is it?
Uncivilized Behaviour from Dow: Dow is pushing 2,4D in Brazil -- a compound which is was part of the infamous 'Agent Orange'
GMO Corn & Soy: Negligible Yield Increases: a new independent study shows that genetic engineering doesn't really increase yields

 

 

Issue 266: August 2009

 Not Quite the Whole Hog

The newspaper headlines trumpet that hog farmers are ‘disappointed’ by the Federal Government’s announcement of a $92-million package to help bail out ‘the industry’ – as well they might be. Indeed, one could say that $92 million is a slap in the face, particularly since $17 million of it is to go to market research, not to farmers. The Canadian Pork Council’s survival plan called for $800-million to help farmers survive the current crisis. As one farmer put it, “We’ve got to do something. We can’t keep losing $50 a pig.”

This dire situation did not just happen, of course. Part of the cause is Federal agricultural policy. When the government repealed the Western Grain Transportation Act which subsidized the movement of grain by rail from the Prairies to seaports (the “Crow Rate”) in 1995, the suddenly cheap wheat and barley was an incentive to huge growth in livestock production, particularly swine. Inventories of hogs in Manitoba, for example, increased over 78% between 1995 and 2004. The low Canadian dollar relative to the US dollar encouraged exports, and approximately 2/3 of Canadian pigs went south. Changes in the US hog industry – the demise of ‘farrow-to-finish’ (typically smaller, family-run farms) in favour of large, vertically-integrated intensive operations – ireduced the total number of hogs produced. Slaughter facilities tied to this system and benefitting from cheap labour and more relaxed regulations out-bid Canadian abattoirs for hogs. When the Canadian dollar rose, it affected overseas markets for Canadian pork rather than the US-Canadian trade, and of course the fears engendered by “swine flu” didn’t help markets either. Meanwhile, the recent rise in the price of grain undid the effects of the death of the Crow.

Now a news story from the Brantford, Ontario, Expositor reports that farmers attending a rally organized by the Beginning Farmer Group in southwestern Ontario are beginning to call for supply management in some form to save Ontario’s pork industry from collapse, along with government support for mostly younger producers. As one farmer
commented: “I’m not saying supply management will fix everything but we have to do something.”

The paper quotes a farmer who runs a 2,000-hog farm saying it’s obvious that there is more supply than demand in the pork industry. He conceded the quota system used in the dairy, chicken and egg industries seems to be working. “No one wants to call it quota [in the hog industry] and no one wants to call it supply management,” he said.

Certainly bailing out the industry is not going to make it float. It is sinking because of gaping holes in its basic structure and assumptions.
The hog industry has been built on cheap grain, cheap oil, easy export markets, and the ideology of ‘bigger is better’. As in the US, the smaller, resilient family farms that raised pigs from farrow to finish on feeds that came from their own farms have been replaced by ‘intensive livestock operations’ (ILOs), also known as factory farms, with huge capital investments, where thousands of animals are housed in mega-barns and fed ‘scientifically developed’ grain rations, along with antibiotics to protect them from the inevitable diseases. Instead of finding a private corner in which to build their nests, sows are confined to metal crates for farrowing so they can’t accidentally lie on their piglets – who are weaned as young as 14 days “to maximize sow productivity”. The manure, which used to be a valuable by-product as fertilizer, has become a major environmental problem. Slaughterhouses are similarly set up to maximize throughput rather than considerations for either animals or humans.

There is an alternative, as we have frequently pointed out in the pages of The Ram’s Horn. Small-scale, low-tech animal production, integrated into a diverse farm, can be extremely efficient and both humane and environmentally sound. Pigs are marvellous creatures, able to use a wide variety of feeds and benefit from social interaction among themselves (production manuals for ILOs recommend providing toys for feeder pigs to keep them happy and to prevent such ‘vices’ as tail-biting).

The government approach, however, is to provide government-backed loans and payments to farmers to cut back on hog numbers for three years – by which time, they assume, their $17-million will have created new export markets and everything can chug along as before. The Canadian Pork Council’s president Jurgen Preugschas says, “There is no doubt those who come out the other side will have a higher debt load and that certainly will affect the competitiveness of the industry in export markets competing with people with less debt. But we believe it is the only way to maintain the industry.” The CPC is projecting that the industry emerging from the crisis will be ‘significantly’ smaller (with annual production dropping form 31 million hogs to 25.5 million) and less dependent on sale of live pigs to the US market (with exports of live hogs cropping from 9.3 million to 4 million per year). It is a dismal prospect: hog producers have no options other than to increase their debt load, seek beneficial repayment terms, restructure their industry and hope that market conditions improve.

It appears that the idiocy of maximizing production for export, at any price, is losing its grip on the minds of hog farmers. The obvious ‘solution’ to the ups and downs of hog supply and prices, and dependency on a market controlled by huge processors, is supply management. This would mean a sharp reduction in the hog population in Canada so that production (supply) would match domestic consumption, and no more. Such a herd reduction could be achieved by putting a cap on farm size so that hogs would be produced on smaller farms rather than in giant factories.


Sow Farrowing Crate

This is a golden opportunity to use and learn from the experience, and mistakes, of supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors. While supply and herd size would be managed by means of quota, quota would not be allowed to become a marketable commodity in its own right. If a farmer quit, the quota would return to the marketing board, to be allocated according to public policy priorities. Thus social and economic aspects of small-scale hog farming would take the place of capital-intensive industrial production. Pigs could then be welcomed back and take their rightful place in rural communities.

Moving in the opposite direction, the federal and provincial governments have agreed to require all Canadian livestock sectors to conform with mandatory traceability requirements (tagging every animal with a tag that stays with the animal – until it is cut up, that is) by 2011 for the sake of the export market. South Korea, Japan and China have said that in the future they will buy only age-verified and traceable ‘product’. This, of course, is one more cost that serves the interests of the big exporters and is virtually irrelevant for livestock produced for a local market.


Pigs on Pasture at Left Fields

 

#266: August 2009 TOC
Not Quite the Whole Hog: analysis of the Government's bail-out of the failing hog industry
Look But Don't Touch: Scientific American calls for open research on patented varieties
Fighting Food Terror: Kerala (India) State Ag. Minister calls for defense against 'greedy corporates'
and Supporting Organics: Brazilian Ministry of Ag booklet critiquing GM is distributed by civil society
We indulge in Schadenfreude: as Nestle's bottled water business declines
Making Promises Sound Like Facts: Washington University teams up with Gates foundation to save Africa again
Antibiotic Resistant Salmonella Recall: Cargill subsidiary BPI has to recall beef due to salmonella, also faces animal-handling charges
Consumers lose trust: IBM survey reports US consumers do not trust food companies
New GM Corn Not Tested: Globe & Mail report on "SmartStax" from Monsanto/Dow
Monsanto Business Plan: Keep Roundup prices high despite market share loss, look to GM seeds as profit centre
Cokecolonization: Coke doubles investment in China, its third-largest market
Colonization by Monsanto: teaching Indian farmers how to go into debt
Myth of Enhanced Yields: New study shows Bt Cotton performs poorly in India; company blames bad weather
No Yields: Colombian cotton growers face huge crop losses, want to sue Monsanto
Fake Real Food or Real Fake Food: analysis of Hellman's "Eat Real Local" website and campaign
Improvements?: Monsanto and Dole are working on 'improving' vegetable varieties

 

 

 

Issue 267: September 2009

 The Tyranny of Rights

 

#267: September 2009 TOC pdf 
The Tyranny of Rights:
 introducing Brewster's new book
Roundup Kills -- weeds, and much more: new research shows that the so-called inert ingredients in Roundup are even more harmful than the glyphosate
    Publish and ... :Argentinian scientist is viciously attacked for exposing effects of glyphosate spray on people
    More and more: more soy, more glyphosate
    Carry On Regardless: Dow and Monsanto continue to get approval of their new GE crops
Smarter Than They Look: apparently lambs can self-medicate
"Mother Nature Is A Bad Person": according to persistent organic deniers Denis and Alex Avery
    Review of interesting work by The Nature Institute on the Goethean approach to science: much more respectful!
Spreading Triffid: 8 years ago we reported Alan McHughen's flamboyantly self-serving release of GE flax; now Canadian farmers stand to lose their most inportant markets
Cargill: information webs; bioplastics; attitude to organic and sustainable agriculture
Tapping into Bottled Water: more on Nestle's attempts to brand bottles as sustainable
Get Rich Quick: 35% return promised on investment in agricultural land.

 

 

 

Issue 268:October-November 2009

 Climate Leadership?

 

#268: October-November 2009 TOC pdf 
Climate Leadership? - PM Harper seems determined to do nothing to address the world's greatest crisis
More pork, more contradictions - The pork producers' aid program is not likely to help much
Three Sisters and Friends - Henry Lickers draws out lessons from traditional Indigenous agriculture
Half-Baked Potato Turned Back - South Africa has rejected GM potatoes, citing inadequate testing
The Meaning of Monoculture - McDonald's governs the varieties commercial potato farmers must grow
Dealing with distancing and energy - A grain CSA is shipping in sailboats across Kootenay Lake in BC
In other shipping news - US soy is turned away from European ports on reports of GM contamination
Maui bans GE Taro - Citing the cultural importance of taro, Maui rejects GE
Big Meat - More mergers, this time JBS SA (Brazil) taking over US Pilgrim's Pride
Meat Safety from Apples - A new edible film is claimed to stop pathogenic bacteria on meat surfaces
India suspends approval of GE brinjal - A GM brinjal (eggplant) has been delayed
Electronic vs. paper - Subscribers can choose either (or both) versions of the Ram's Horn.
Students Wanted - by the organic agriculture curriculum at the University of Guelph
Lobbying - Immense spending by pharmaceutical industry

 

2008

January 2008 to November 2008

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to download the whole issue by clicking on the icon. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

 

#260: November 2008 TOC pdf
Reclaim the Food System! - Cathleen reports on the National Assembly of Food Secure Canada The Hunger Count - Food Banks Canada reports steady numbers at food banks, more groups serving hot meals
Corporate Moves: Updates on Saputo Monsanto Syngenta Big Beef
On the biotech front - Transposons ("jumping genes") don't fit the reductionist model
- If it's GE, is it Ayurvedic? - not according to the traditional Ayurvedic practitioners
- Nontarget Effects: Strong Stalks - BT cornstalks provide overwintering for borers, need to be destroyed
- Argentina: Full of Earth - a local organizing newspaper to publicize landowner abuses
- Markets and Labels (or not) - reports from Korea, Poland, South Africa, and Brazil on GMO approvals and labelling
- On the one hand
- ... and the other - a new GM purple tomato no better than natural alternatives
My two-day field trip with Germany's BASF Plant Science - condensed from a report by Jocelyn Zuckerman in Gourmet Magazine

#259: October 2008 TOC pdf
Troubles and Turmoil: financial market meltdown
Warning: more parasites on the loose - investors move onto Saskatchewan farmland
Obesity - it's corporate obesity we need to worry about
Who gets what: Farm prices and costs - 2008 net farm income is gobbled up by agribusiness
And effects - industrial agriculture run-off causes dead zone
Selling Monsanto - massive propaganda campaign to push GE as the answer to hunger
Small-Scale Organic Seed Production - introducing a useful new publication
Meeting the Millennium Goals - UN President says we have to change the system to address food crisis; US foundations try on more of the same
GM sorghum test approved - Gates Foundation supports research on basic African crop
And not just Africa - Bayer CropScience pushes GE in India
Borneo's "miracle" - tropical rainforest regenerated in only 6 years
Bees - German bees seek urban refuge from GE crops, while Argentine honey crops decline
Paraguay's campesinos fight GE soy - landless and poor farmers occupy Brazilian-owned haciendas in self-protection

#258: August/September 2008 TOC pdf
Lies and Contradictions: we are mesmerized by the barrage of lies from government and industry
Fellow Consumers: Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, tries to deal with a major outbreak of listeria
Long Reach: the contaminated meat even got to Labrador
Good News: Doha is Dead -- the failure of the Doha round of trade talks in July is good news
Corn of Many Colours -- a poem
But where is the Yield Gene? -- the industry complains about 'spin' from its opposition!
"Can't see another way out" -- Syngenta head admits lack of vision
Common Sense from Royalty -- Prince Charles has a vision, and a program
Hubris -- the biotech/agrotoxin industry promises salvation
Eli Lilly to buy rBGH -- Monsanto backs off
Ban on GE Alfalfa -- a ban has been upheld by the US Court of Appeals
Seed Industry News -- Monsanto's Chinese joint venture
Nestlé Re-Positions Itself -- and tries to defend bottled water
'Protecting' bottled water -- three companies join in a propaganda push
Urban Organic Farming -- a new centre opens in Guelph, Ontario
GMO GPS -- in Germany, you can find GMO crops on the internet, why not in Canada?

#257: July 2008 TOC pdf
"Green is the New Black" - Regulation stifling direct markets may lead to a new black market in local organic food
Government Dismantles Itself - from the CFIA to research, government is handing responsibilities to corporations
A Very Different Attitude - the Bocock family donates most of their farm to the University of Alberta for agriculture research
Ray Epp writes from Hokkaido, Japan, about using wild yeasts
Sustainable Fuel Initiatives:

  Growing biodiesel for their own farms - a farmers coop in Manitoba grows 'feed' for their 'horsepower'
  Learning Centre Proposes Waste-based Biodiesel - Everdale Centre in Ontario looks at 'renting' their product to restaurants and then recycling it as fuel
  Reducing Carbon Emissions - Prince Charles' Aston-Martin runs on ethanol from 'surplus wine'
  What goes ’round ... - a correspondent notices sustainability behaviour in birds
Corporate Watch:
  Rearranging the Deck Chairs - Mergers and Acquisitions
  Tyson Foods - plans to sell beef interests, focus on chicken
  Cargill & Fertilizer - update on world's primary phosphorus and potash producer
  A Public Food Policy - Food Secure Canada members plan a coast-to-coast public process on food sovereignty policy

#256: June 2008 TOC pdf
Resurgent Neocolonialism - and the assault on Africa
The Party Line /Lie: US Ag Secretary spouts lies about development, griculture, and genetic engineering
AGRA: Green Revolution Part 2 - a South African commentary
Fertilizer Prices: accessible to the palm oil producers (if they are large and wealthy enough)
From the Horse's Mouth: direct quotes from the Gates Foundation, FAO, et. al.
La Via Campesina call for mobilization against the G-8 in Hokkaido, Japan
Indigenous Food Sovereignty: excerpts from a major report from BC
Food Sovereignty in Gujarat, India: herders lose access to traditional territories, become nomadic
Farming and Climate Change: a letter from a flooded farmer in the US mid-west
Back to Basics: Guano - an old fertilizer finds a new niche
Playing Lobbyist - you too can come up with a line for Monsanto!
Cargill donates $10 million to CARE with a focus on child nutrition and farmer training
Potatoes: not traded as a global commodity but important nonetheless

#255: May 2008 TOC pdf
Caution: Neoliberalism at work - futures market and its effects; and the conclusion of an international study that change is essential
Who really gets the 'food aid'? (Follow the Money, part two) - perhaps to the CEOs of the agribusiness corporations?
Who is to blame? - Robert Zoellick blames the USA (but he was one architect of their policy)
nontarget.org - a new publication from The Nature Institute on the Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation
Swiss 'Dignity' Law - the law requires respect for the dignity of plants as well as animals, lawyers struggle to figure out what that means
Earnings and Inequity - Statistics Canada reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the average hasn't changed
Sweetness and Light: Candy Makers Merge - Mars and Wrigley, both family businesses, merg
Wind Power - the wind in Spain provides power to the plain
Another burst balloon - the Canadian government pays farmers to kill their sows
European Update
     - Greece expands GMO ban out of concern for bees
     - The European Commission postpones acceptance of three GMO crops
GM Crop Promiscuity, Longevity - canola is found to hybridize about 40 species;
     - scientists map biotech crops to better study gene flows;
     - GM plant seeds found in fields 10 years late

#254: March/April 2008 TOC pdf
Follow the Money: - we look at what is behind the rise in grain prices
Supermarket Wages: breaking the unions for corporate competitiveness
World Beef: update on mergers and expansion
About Feedback: the CFIA learns that people are deeply concerned about health and environment, and decide to adjust their messaging
Clean Milk (relatively speaking): WalMart and others refuse milk produced with rBST
Nutritionism: reductionism in the food system
Food Safety in China: Cargill steps in to help
Appendix A: scientists discover the likely role of the appendix
Neither Food Nor Nutrition: Cargill's new ingredient for frozen desserts; egg replacers for baked and other foods
Cell phones may disorient bees: stay away from the microwave
Sugar Beet Resistance: food companies join the opposition to GM sugar beets
Attack on the Eldest Brother: farmers and activists in Hawaii opposed GM taro, which is viewed as an ancestor of the people.

#253: February 2008 TOC pdf
Lady Bountiful Version 2.08 - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helping small farmers pull themselves up by their bootstraps
The Indian elite is ... seceding from the people - comment from India about the growing wealth-poverty gap
Food Industry Notes - corporate mergers are old news, the interesting stuff is in the resistance to the industrial food system
Life Imitates Art - Candy bars are now full of caffeine
Dangerous Invasive Species - that would be corporations
"Corporate Control from Seed to Sewer" - NGO position at the Convention on Biological Diversity meetings
News: NAFTA is a Disaster! - rising corn and bean prices leading to a deep crisis
Fertilizer Woes - Potash Corp and friends reap record profits; Canada's Ag minister recommends farmers go cross-border shopping
Seed and Ideology - the attack on Kernel Visual Distinguishability
Bangladesh threatened with hybrid rice - TNCs rush to take advantage of the hurricane aftermath
Cowpeas - Monsanto et. al. are trying to push GM versions of this traditional crop
The Appalling Meat Industry:
   Pork Brains (processing makes workers sick)
   Recalls (slaughter of 'downer' cattle for food programs)
   Connecting Ethanol Byproduct and E. Coli (problems with cattle fed distillers' grains)
It's the model that has to change - Greenpeace and Canadian Federation of Agriculture disagree

#252: January 2008 TOC pdf
The Disappearance of 'Public' - Brewster looks at public markets as a way of considering the use - and loss - of public space
"Eau de Source Public" - tap water may be more 'private' than you think
Product of Canada - of of nature? - how can publicly-controlled water be sold in bottles?
Political meltdown affects food industry - although Unilever is struggling with tea supplies, fresh veggies are shipping from Kenya to the UK no problem
Analysis from Eldoret, Kenya - a friend writes that this struggle is about power, not tribalism, and the poor continue to suffer
From animal to machine: the next step, cloned meat - the industry defends cloning as 'substantially equivalent'
Safe as Milk? - the US FDA support for cloning is questioned
Hey, Nobody's Perfect - James Watson, famous for his work on DNA and his bigoted statements, discovers he probably has a grandparent of African descent
Resources on Agrofuels
The Depressing Section:

On the Other Hand

More Corporate Food News

Issue 252: January 2008

The Disappearance of ‘Public’

 

Over the holidays we drove to Connecticut to visit my sister and extended family. Driving through New England I was struck, once again, by the ‘Greens’ or market squares which still exist in so many of the of the colonial towns. Once upon a time – and still, in a great many villages and towns around the world – public life took place in and revolved around the village square or Green. The market took place there; so did various festivals and celebrations – and the politics of the community, of course. Public life took place in a public space. Nowadays we do most of our shopping in the publicly accessible spaces of privately owned commercial shopping centres. In these spaces, however, the public are ‘consumers,’ not citizens.

The village greens also served as parks. We still have parks, but although they are public and accessible to all, at least formally, they are not the sites of political life and public commerce. Permits from some public agency are almost always required for any kind of parade or demonstration, thus calling into question their ‘public’ nature.

I have memories of sleeping undisturbed in such places while hitch-hiking around the southern USA. I also have memories of listening to the popular Methodist preacher Donald Soper, who held forth in Hyde Park, London, every Sunday, often in a grand debate with the gathered crowd. Can you imagine such an event taking place in your local shopping mall, which in many towns and cities is all there is for a village square? (Cathleen was one of the Ottawa Raging Grannies – a peace & justice action group – who were ushered out of a local mall shortly before Christmas for committing the illegal acts of singing anti-war songs and distributing information about non-violent toys to an appreciative audience of shoppers.)

Grannies and Security

Of course politics have always been a characteristic of the British pubs (‘public houses’) and French cafés. The city of Curitiba, Brazil has structured itself so that political life can take place on the main street. When I visited there many years ago, I was told that the politicians each had their favourite coffee bar where they could be found at certain times of the day so that the public could talk with them informally. The coffee bars were scattered the length of the main street, which had been closed to traffic –  except human – and covered with terrazzo.  A very inviting public space.

Compare this scene with Ottawa today, where bureaucrats, to say nothing of politicians, are not available to the public except by appointment (perhaps) and are housed in ‘gated’ offices, protected from the public they are supposed to serve, and providing us less and less information. The civil service is under the heavy hand of the Prime Minister’s Office, and only their union, still called the Public Service Alliance, keeps alive the original idea of service to the public, not the politicians.

‘Public’ has all but disappeared.  Not quite the way political opposition critics, union activists and social justice advocates were ‘disappeared’ during the years of Latin American military dictatorships not so long ago, and not voluntarily, but rather it has surreptitiously been ‘disappeared’ by neo-liberals in their quest to privatize and commodify everything. A strong sense of public and strong public institutions stands in the way of private greed and corporate profit. 

It’s a perverse and corrupt government that spends public money to lobby for its partisan legislation. The federal government spent $1.2 million on advertising for its Wheat Board/barley ‘plebiscite’ earlier this year.  While spending that much on propaganda in their attempt to remove barley from Canadian Wheat Board jurisdiction, the government put a gag order of the CWB prohibiting the CWB from explaining its point of view.  In addition there was a lot of money spent by individual Conservative members of Parliament promoting the government’s “ideological crusade” as it was described by NDP MP Pat Martin who obtained the information under an Access to Information request.
– source: WP,6/12/07

The primary beneficiaries of this government corruption were the daily and weekly newspapers and farm press, and radio – a clear attempt to buy editorial support.

Since The Ram’s Horn is supposed to focus on food systems, I got to thinking about the better-known public markets (not to be confused with farmers’ markets) in Canada: Granville Island in Vancouver, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and Byward market in Ottawa. Each of these provide examples of public and private institutions and spaces that can lead to interesting reflections on the nature and value of public. The question of who actually owns these markets, or at least the land they are on, is not a simple one, nor is the question of how they are managed and who makes up the rules. How public are these places and who is the public that one finds there?

Granville Island is a tourist as well as local mecca for lovers of the best in foods, arts and crafts. It is also home to a cement plant and a major school of art, boatbuilders, ship chandlers, and a brewery. The Public (food) Market itself, always crowded, is really ‘over the top’ with its number and variety of vendors. But in what sense is it public, other than being open to the public? Most of the vendors are commercial, carrying produce and foods from anywhere and everywhere, not what they have grown themselves. (There is a special weekly farmers’ market which is what it says it is.) Nevertheless, Granville Island is an interesting example of various forms of ‘public.’

The 35 acre island the Market sits on was dredged up from the harbour in the 19th century.  In 1915 the newly formed Vancouver Harbour Commission (a public agency) approved a reclamation project for the Island that made it a significant industrial area managed by a government agency collecting rents from private businesses.  By the 1950s the older industries were in decline and the space was in need of a new life, but it was 1972 before the redevelopment of Granville Island was initiated by the federal government to create, foster and maintain a unique, very public space in the heart of Vancouver. In the same year, the administration, management and control of the revitalization of Granville Island was transferred from the Harbour Commission to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a crown (government) corporation.  Today, Granville Island is administered by The Granville Island Trust, an advisory body to CMHC’s Granville Island Office appointed by the Minister responsible for CMHC. The Board of Trustees is composed of representatives from Granville Island, local area residents and the City of Vancouver.

The CMHC is itself an interesting example of a government agency acting specifically in the public interest – the sort of agency that Canada’s current government is determined to do away with. The federal government created the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1946 to house returning war veterans and to lead the nation’s housing programs. Toward the end of the 1940s, the federal government embarked on a program of much-needed social and rental housing, creating a federal-provincial public housing program for low-income families, with costs and subsidies shared 75% by the federal government and 25% by the province. Affordable housing, supported by the public out of general tax revenue, meant that people on a low income could afford both food and housing.

Between 1973 and 1982, the federal government invested heavily in Granville Island, including the assumption of the Harbour Board’s debt. Since 1983, however, Granville Island has been financially self-sustaining, with funding for capital improvements and operations covered by revenues from its tenants, which are from the public, private and non-profit sectors. 

The Market, like the whole little island, is hugely successful as a public space accommodating a wide variety of non-profit activities and institutions along with many small private businesses.

Clearly, Granville Island is a good example of a ‘public good’ (space and facilities) provided –  or one might say ‘owned’ – by the public through a non-profit crown corporation with direct government funding. This does not, however, make it the kind of public space that the village greens and town squares have provided. One does not go to Granville Island or its Public Market for political debates, however much political conversations might occur between private individuals over lunch or a beer there. – www.granvilleisland.com/en/island_info,  www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/corp/about/

 

#252: January 2008 TOC
The Disappearance of 'Public' - Brewster looks at public markets as a way of considering the use - and loss - of public space
"Eau de Source Public" - tap water may be more 'private' than you think
Product of Canada - of of nature? - how can publicly-controlled water be sold in bottles?
Political meltdown affects food industry - although Unilever is struggling with tea supplies, fresh veggies are shipping from Kenya to the UK no problem
Analysis from Eldoret, Kenya - a friend writes that this struggle is about power, not tribalism, and the poor continue to suffer
From animal to machine: the next step, cloned meat - the industry defends cloning as 'substantially equivalent'
Safe as Milk? - the US FDA support for cloning is questioned
Hey, Nobody's Perfect - James Watson, famous for his work on DNA and his bigoted statements, discovers he probably has a grandparent of African descent
Resources on Agrofuels
The Depressing Section:

  • Monsanto collects from farmers - farmers in the US lose lawsuits
  • Yet another Monsanto front group - American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology
  • Another hidden subsidy for Monsanto - called the Biotech Yield Endorsement program
  • No benefit to consumers, just shareholders - Monsanto's actions are clear
  • Supreme Court won't hear case against Monsanto - Saskatchewan Organic Directorate case denied leave to appeal

On the Other Hand

  • Rural Movement Attacks Syngenta - activists shut down an agrochemical plant in Sao Paulo, Brazil

More Corporate Food News

  • Big Meat - Cargill is forced to recall a mountain of ground beef
  • Commodity Trader Moves into Agrofuels - Louis Deyfus is diversifying
  • Termites, Bakers, and Ethanol Makers - enzymes in the spotlight


 

 

 

Issue 253: February 2008

 Lady Bountiful Version 2.08

Reading yet another press release about the philanthropy of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – this time a $19.9 million grant to The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) – I was struck by the language describing this grant and others by Gates that are “designed to help small farmers boost their yields and increase their incomes so they can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.” According to Gates, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, “These investments—from improving the quality of seeds, to developing healthier soil, to creating new markets—will pay off not only in children fed and lives saved. They can have a dramatic impact on poverty reduction as families generate additional income and improve their lives.”

Charity – the obligation of the wealthy to help the deserving poor – is nothing new. The key, of course, is in the word ‘deserving’. The ‘deserving’ poor in the era of Lady Bountiful were the appropriately subservient, those who could be counted upon to be grateful for the largesse and not to challenge the upper class. The new philanthropy is not much different.

While on the surface the Gates Foundation statement is less patronizing than that tired old one about ‘sustainable development,’ it has a very American ring to it: highly individualistic, with ‘improved’ lives measured in ‘additional income.’ There is no mention of justice, which would be measured by a reduction in the gap between rich and poor, elite and deprived, or the structures of capitalism that require that a few get rich while the many get poorer. In other words, it is still a matter of helping the deserving poor, not changing the system which impoverished them in the first place.

Unspoken, also, is the trust in The Market to pay a fair price for the additional rice produced, without at the same time increasing the costs to the farmer (referred to as ‘inputs’ in the industrial system). Given how few companies control the market, coming and going, why would anyone expect them to charge or pay a fair price when they don’t have to? Global traders, like Cargill, ADM and Bunge, play the market, and it is in their interest to pay as little as possible for the commodities they trade, while charging what they can get away with for the ‘inputs’ they sell.

As for Mr. Gates, he has made it very clear that what he wants – what Microsoft is about – is a monopoly in the market place, not competition. The laws and regulations that foster this, along with the political power of extreme wealth, are not to be challenged. Rather, we are to be impressed by the generosity of the mega-rich, while they reconfigure charity into development aid to reproduce the class structure of capital and ensure that radical insight into its injustice is masked by individual ‘income improvement’.

IRRI’s project will target the poorest rice farmers in Africa and South Asia, who have little or no access to irrigation and who are totally reliant on sufficient, timely rains. These farmers are regularly exposed to drought, flooding, or salinity—conditions that reduce yields, harm livelihoods, and foster hunger and malnutrition. The development and distribution of new rice varieties tolerant of these environmental stresses can help avert hunger and malnutrition while improving livelihoods for millions of farmers and their families.

With minimal access to irrigation and fertilizer, these farmers, who own small plots on marginal land, are inevitably most exposed—and most vulnerable—to poor soils, too much or too little rain, and environmental disasters.

IRRI Director General Robert S. Zeigler emphasizes that, with climate change threatening to worsen the frequency and severity of these problems, the need for insurance – in the form of stress-tolerant crops – is growing ever more urgent.

– International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, Press Release, 25/01/08

Quite apart from their prescriptions for subsistence farmers – such as drought tolerant seeds which will have to be genetically engineered, and irrigation and fertilizer which they cannot afford – one really has to ask, Is it really appropriate for one man – or one man and one woman – to decide on what will ‘reduce poverty’ while their own wealth continues its relentless increase? – B.K.

 

#253: February 2008 TOC
Lady Bountiful Version 2.08 - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helping small farmers pull themselves up by their bootstraps
The Indian elite is ... seceding from the people - comment from India about the growing wealth-poverty gap
Food Industry Notes - corporate mergers are old news, the interesting stuff is in the resistance to the industrial food system
Life Imitates Art - Candy bars are now full of caffeine
Dangerous Invasive Species - that would be corporations
"Corporate Control from Seed to Sewer" - NGO position at the Convention on Biological Diversity meetings
News: NAFTA is a Disaster! - rising corn and bean prices leading to a deep crisis
Fertilizer Woes - Potash Corp and friends reap record profits; Canada's Ag minister recommends farmers go cross-border shopping
Seed and Ideology - the attack on Kernel Visual Distinguishability
Bangladesh threatened with hybrid rice - TNCs rush to take advantage of the hurricane aftermath
Cowpeas - Monsanto et. al. are trying to push GM versions of this traditional crop
The Appalling Meat Industry:
   Pork Brains (processing makes workers sick)
   Recalls (slaughter of 'downer' cattle for food programs)
   Connecting Ethanol Byproduct and E. Coli (problems with cattle fed distillers' grains)
It's the model that has to change - Greenpeace and Canadian Federation of Agriculture disagree

 

 

Issue 254: March/April 2008

 Follow the Money

The price of the world’s three main grains – rice, wheat and corn – has doubled in the past year. Rice exported from Thailand, for example, has risen from $360 a tonne to $760 in the past year and India has increased its export price for rice to $1000 a tonne. The rise in prices is popularly attributed to the demand for food crops to produce agrofuels (ethanol and bio-diesel), population growth, prosperity leading to a rise in demand for meat, particularly in India and China, climate change, and the price of oil (for the manufacture of fertilizer and for transporting food commodities).

It’s not just food prices. The CEO of fertilizer company Agrium told a global fertilizer investor conference in Toronto that the current high grain prices are good for his business. “Our customer – the farmer – is making a lot of money,” he said. Agrium’s stock has risen 48% over the past 12 months, while Potash Corp of Saskatchewan is up 165%. Canpotex, which exports the products of both Agrium and Potash Crop, has raised its price for sales to Brazil and Southeast Asia to $750 a tonne, a 40% increase for Southeast Asia and an 85% increase for Brazil. In Brazil, it is soy (livestock feed for Europe) and sugar cane (for ethanol for Brazil and the USA) that require vast amounts of fertilizer. Fertilizer for India went up 130% to $625 per tonne. Potash Corp’s president said these price increases should produce a gross maragin of $2 billion this year, more than double 2007. Agrium’s profits are expected to similarly increase.       – G&M, 3/4/08

Analysts such as Michael Pollan and Anna Lappé see some positive in the higher grain prices, pointing to the massive subsidies to the commodity crops in the US, and noting that “higher food prices level the playing field for sustainable food that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.”                                  – NYT 2/4/08

However, nowhere have I seen any mention of the pockets in which those subsidies actually wind up. The fact that in every sector of the global industrial food system there are three, and possibly five, corporations in control is not discussed. But the oligopolistic structure of the food industry makes it quite possible that these companies are colluding in fixing prices, propagating a variety of other plausible explanations for the rise in commodity prices as a smokescreen. As Noam Chomsky famously remarked, it does not take a conspiracy for elites to work together in their own self-interest. Cargill, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and Bunge are quite able, and willing, to work together for mutual advantage. Competition is a slogan for public consumption, not a behavioral description of Capital. (An article in the business pages of the Globe & Mail did comment that there is no sign that the US government plans to revisit its biofuel legislation “because there are powerful interests in Congress that benefit from it.” However, it did not mention that ADM is not only the biggest ethanol producer but a perpetually major Washington lobbyist.)

Of course, this is not to deny that there really is drought resulting from climate change  in Australia and Africa, or that the substantial subsidies for agrofuel production in the USA have driven up the price of corn, or that the rising price of oil has increased the cost of fertilizer and transportation, or that the emerging middle class in India and China (which is huge even though a small percentage of total population) is demanding more meat.

The point is that we are habituated to looking at discrete factors, not systems, to explain phenomena such as dramatic price increases. For example, the current financial meltdown in the USA should clearly be attributed to the inner dynamic of the capitalist system, not to some unusual events or isolated corrupt practices – though these are part of the reality, along with an attitude that social unrest and violation of trade rules are more significant than malnutrition and starvation.

A front page article in the Toronto Globe & Mail (29/3/08) prominently noted that the rise in commodity prices is “affecting just about everything people eat, and fanning social unrest in some of the most unstable corners of the world .” It also noted that “numerous countries, including Argentina and Vietnam, have capped or taxed exports . . . running the risk of violating international trade rules.”
– B.K.

 

#254: March/April 2008 TOC
Follow the Money: - we look at what is behind the rise in grain prices
Supermarket Wages: breaking the unions for corporate competitiveness
World Beef: update on mergers and expansion
About Feedback: the CFIA learns that people are deeply concerned about health and environment, and decide to adjust their messaging
Clean Milk (relatively speaking): WalMart and others refuse milk produced with rBST
Nutritionism: reductionism in the food system
Food Safety in China: Cargill steps in to help
Appendix A: scientists discover the likely role of the appendix
Neither Food Nor Nutrition: Cargill's new ingredient for frozen desserts; egg replacers for baked and other foods
Cell phones may disorient bees: stay away from the microwave
Sugar Beet Resistance: food companies join the opposition to GM sugar beets
Attack on the Eldest Brother: farmers and activists in Hawaii opposed GM taro, which is viewed as an ancestor of the people.

 

 

Issue 255: May 2008

 Caution: neoliberalism at work

There are two stories to be told. The cruelest story is about globalized neoliberalism, corporate profits, speculative ‘investment’ and the chaos and failure of industrial agriculture as a result. The other story is about the possible turning of the tide on the neoliberal project.

All livestock farmers are familiar with parasites, internal and external, and many are also familiar with foxes (as in the henhouse), coyotes and other predators. A vigorous animal can cope with a light infestation of parasites, but even the otherwise healthiest of animals can be brought low by a heavy parasite burden, and an animal so consumed is obviously unable to provide milk or meat. Agriculture itself has long had to deal with parasites and predators of one sort or another. Sometimes they are slick seed dealers, other times shrewd livestock drovers. Now there seem to be increasing infestations of investors and attacks by fertilizer and land predators.

In Saskatchewan, limited partnerships that can give you part ownership of a portfolio of agricultural land have moved in. These pooled investor funds use the money to buy farmland, which is then leased back to farmers. “There is potential for considerable capital gains” and the lease payments generate income that is paid out to unit holders – less any fees deducted. – GM, 21/4/08. Former provincial Minister of Agriculture Tim Carroll has also suggested the scheme to the beleaguered farmers of PEI.

According to figures compiled by commodities brokerage Gresham Investment Management, the amount of speculative money in commodities futures – that is, investors such as big funds that don’t buy or sell the physical commodity but merely bet on price movements – was less than $5-billion in 2000. Last year, it ballooned to roughly $175-billion. By some estimates, investment funds control 50% of the wheat traded on the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s biggest commodity markets. – G&M, 25/4/08

At an April 22nd meeting convened by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, many farmers and commodity buyers suggested that it is the growing clout of financial speculators, like large index funds and hedge funds, that has generated unpredictable gyrations in the futures market. Some producers blamed these large speculators for causing a disconnect between the value of a futures contract and the underlying value of the asset [a particular commodity] it is supposed to represent. – G&M, 23/4/08


 

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is an independent agency of the US Government with the mandate to regulate commodity futures and option markets in the United States. In 1974 the majority of futures trading took place in the agricultural sector, but since then “the futures industry has become increasingly varied . . . and today encompasses a vast array of highly complex financial futures contracts.” The CFTC “assures the economic utility of the futures markets by encouraging their competitiveness and efficiency, protecting market participants against fraud, manipulation, and abusive trading practices, and by ensuring the financial integrity of the clearing process. Through effective oversight, the CFTC enables the futures markets to serve the important function of providing a means for price discovery and offsetting price risk.” –www.cftc.gov/aboutthecftc/index.htm

For more information on futures contracts, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futures_contract


Until quite recently speculation in agricultural commodities (grains, oilseeds, pork bellies) was limited by the rules of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in the US (see box above). Only those classed as farmers and food companies were eligible to trade in agricultural commodities. Then a couple of years ago the CFTC changed its rules to allow commodity trading by market speculators. The change meant that a mechanism that was supposed to help farmers and the food industry to ‘discover’ prices and manage risk was opened to speculators with no particular interest in the welfare of farmers or agricultural commodities.

This resulted in purely profit-seeking trading activities driving up prices, which in turn forced countries dependent on imported food staples to bid up prices even further in order to obtain their essential food imports.

“Investors fleeing Wall Street’s mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up. . . By Christmas, a global panic was building. With fewer places to turn, and tempted by the weaker US dollar, nations staged a run on the US wheat harvest. Foreign buyers, who typically seek to purchase one or two months’ supply of wheat at a time, suddenly began to stockpile. This led major domestic U.S. mills to jump into the fray with their own massive orders, fearing that there would soon be no wheat left at any price. Japan, the Philippines, [South] Korea, Taiwan – they all came in with huge orders, and no matter how high prices go, they keep on buying.”
– StarTribune, Washington Post, 28/4/08


“Has it ever been better for Cargill? Not likely. At $471,611 an hour, Cargill posts a fine quarter,” reported Cargill’s hometown newspaper, the Star-Tribune. That hourly income figure is based on the billion dollar profit the company made in the first quarter of this year ($1.03 billion to be exact).

Cargill CEO Greg Page noted that “Demand for food in developing economies and for energy worldwide is boosting demand for agricultural goods, at the same time that investment monies have streamed into commodity markets.” A Cargill spokeswoman said that food shortages have strengthened Cargill’s call for free trade: “It’s very important that food be allowed to move from places where there is a surplus to places where there is a need.”
– ST, 15/4/08


India has halted trading in futures contracts on key food items. Trading in foods such as soybean oil, potatoes and chick peas, along with rubber, is suspended for at least four months. – NYT, 08/8/08


And now for the good news:

“Business as usual is no longer an option”

The final report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was released in mid-April. The report took four years to complete and included input from 400 scientists, academics and researchers from 100 countries.

"The old paradigm of industrial, energy-intensive and toxic agriculture is a concept of the past," the IAASTD said in a news release. "The key message of the report is that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of local communities."

Fifty-seven governments approved the report. Only the now customary misguided four, the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have not signed on (though the UK is reported to be considering it). As might be expected, the report was also not welcomed by the agrotroxin-biotech industry and its lobby organizations. "To be quite frank we see the report as very superficial and negative," said Lorne Hepworth of CropLife Canada (which had participated in the procss but then withdrew). The report, he says, fails to recognize the yield-boosting potential of crop protection products, hybrid seeds and GM crops, which the industry
claims goes to the heart of the hunger and poverty issues. The assessment concluded that the practice of large-scale industrial monoculture agriculture is unsustainable and cannot provide food for the future.

From the Global Summary

“The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) responds to the widespread realization that despite significant scientific and technological achievements in our ability to increase agricultural productivity, we have been less attentive to some of the unintended social and environmental consequences of our achievements. We are now in a good position to reflect on these consequences and to outline various policy options to meet the challenges ahead, perhaps best characterized as the need for food and livelihood security under increasingly constrained environmental conditions from within and outside the realm of agriculture and globalized economic systems.”

“If we do persist with business as usual, the world’s people cannot be fed over the next half-century. It will mean more environmental degradation, and the gap between the haves and have-nots will further widen. We have an opportunity now to marshal our intellectual resources to avoid that sort of future. Otherwise we face a world no one would want to inhabit.” – Professor Robert Watson, Director of the IAASTD Secretariat

“The IAASTD is unique in the history of agricultural science assessments, in that it assesses both formal science and technology (S&T) and local and traditional knowledge, addresses not only production and productivity but the multifunctionality of agriculture, and recognizes that multiple perspectives exist on the role and nature of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (AKST). For many years, agricultural science focused on delivering component technologies to increase farm-level productivity where the market and institutional arrangements put in place by the state were the primary drivers of the adoption of new technologies. The general model has been to continuously innovate, reduce farm gate prices and externalize costs. This model drove the phenomenal achievements of AKST in industrial countries after World War II and the spread of the Green Revolution beginning in the 1960s. But, given the new challenges we confront today, there is increasing recognition within formal S&T organizations that the current AKST model requires revision. Business as usual is no longer an option. This leads to rethinking the role of AKST in achieving development and sustainability goals; one that seeks more intensive engagement across diverse worldviews and possibly contradictory approaches in ways that can inform and suggest strategies for actions enabling to the multiple functions of agriculture.” –www.agassessment.org/docs/SR_Exec_Sum_210408_ Final.htm


 

#255: May 2008 TOC
Caution: Neoliberalism at work - futures market and its effects; and the conclusion of an international study that change is essential
Who really gets the 'food aid'? (Follow the Money, part two) - perhaps to the CEOs of the agribusiness corporations?
Who is to blame? - Robert Zoellick blames the USA (but he was one architect of their policy)
nontarget.org - a new publication from The Nature Institute on the Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation
Swiss 'Dignity' Law - the law requires respect for the dignity of plants as well as animals, lawyers struggle to figure out what that means
Earnings and Inequity - Statistics Canada reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the average hasn't changed
Sweetness and Light: Candy Makers Merge - Mars and Wrigley, both family businesses, merg
Wind Power - the wind in Spain provides power to the plain
Another burst balloon - the Canadian government pays farmers to kill their sows
European Update
     - Greece expands GMO ban out of concern for bees
     - The European Commission postpones acceptance of three GMO crops
GM Crop Promiscuity, Longevity - canola is found to hybridize about 40 species;
     - scientists map biotech crops to better study gene flows;
     - GM plant seeds found in fields 10 years later

 

 

Issue 256: June 2008

 Resurgent Neocolonialism

It seems that the world – globalization – is pressing in on us as never before. Or maybe this is what the native peoples of the Americas have felt like for the past five centuries.All of a sudden, it seems, energy supply and prices (Peak Oil), food supply and prices, speculative profit taking and both short and long term climate change have all converged.

Just as suddenly there appears to be a very widespread public awakening to the precariousness of the global industrial food system with its alarming dependency on familiar and predictable weather conditions and fossil fuels. There is also a rising awareness of the destructive ecological impacts of every aspect of this corporate-industrial food system.

More than 3 million acres of farmland are believed to be under water [in the midwest US and] another 2 million did not even get planted. About 57% of the corn crop is considered to be in good condition. Some of the fields in Iowa have received 36 centimetres (14") of rain in the past two weeks alone.  – G&M, 17,18/6/08

The logical sequel to this awakening has very naturally led to a global interest in local food and food sovereignty – bringing food, and the control of food, down to earth, or back home, so to speak.

There are few signs of hope, however, at the meetings of convergent forces such as the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Bonn, Germany) where Canada played a sinister role of sabotaging any meaningful limitation on research and trials of genetically engineered trees, or at the  High Level Conference on World Food Security, Climate Change and Bio-Energy (the FAO Summit, June 2008) which did little more than call for more ‘improved’ seeds and fertilizer for Africa.

The neo-colonial assault on Africa currently being carried out in the name of philanthropy and feeding the hungry is an obscene attack on the very existence of African societies and cultures. The advance forces of this assault are seeds and fertilizer, and these two words can be found over and over again in every self-serving statement about what will save Africa from starvation, from Monsanto to the FAO.

The rhetoric is that of the old Green Revolution, with one word missing: pesticides, or as we would prefer to identify them, agrotoxins; but of course their use is implied – indeed, structured into – genetically engineered seeds.

Thus when we encounter the word ‘seeds’ in this context, we can be assured that it means G.E. seeds, not the seeds produced through farmer-led plant breeding based on the immense biological diversity still to be found outside the corporate precincts.  We must remember, as well, that G.E. is an unproven experiment in terms of biological consequences (for plants, animals, including the two-legged ones, and fish), though it has proven its merit in terms of corporate control and domination. We also know that the technological hubris associated with genetic engineering has the unfortunate consequences of inducing blindness, deafness and loss of feeling among its proponents, inuring them to the consequences of their investments.

Making Money

Global capital will not, cannot, feed the world. The contradiction between food and profits is far too fundamental. Food is about sustenance. Profit derives from excess – draining the ‘natural resources’ and squeezing the economic system, from the bottom like a tube of toothpaste, to provide unearned wealth for investors. With quarterly reports to ‘the market,’ it is a race to the top of excess profit on the one hand, and a race to the bottom of costs on the other, both requiring the exploitation of the cheapest labour and ‘natural resources’ available anywhere in the world. The costs of resulting pollution and climate change are externalized, i.e., dumped on the public, while the shareholders seem to think they inhabit another world  in their gated communities and private aircraft, apparently convinced that their excesses will not destroy their children’s future.

africa milk

 

#256: June 2008 TOC
Resurgent Neocolonialism - and the assault on Africa
The Party Line /Lie: US Ag Secretary spouts lies about development, griculture, and genetic engineering
AGRA: Green Revolution Part 2 - a South African commentary
Fertilizer Prices: accessible to the palm oil producers (if they are large and wealthy enough)
From the Horse's Mouth: direct quotes from the Gates Foundation, FAO, et. al.
La Via Campesina call for mobilization against the G-8 in Hokkaido, Japan
Indigenous Food Sovereignty: excerpts from a major report from BC
Food Sovereignty in Gujarat, India: herders lose access to traditional territories, become nomadic
Farming and Climate Change: a letter from a flooded farmer in the US mid-west
Back to Basics: Guano - an old fertilizer finds a new niche
Playing Lobbyist - you too can come up with a line for Monsanto!
Cargill donates $10 million to CARE with a focus on child nutrition and farmer training
Potatoes: not traded as a global commodity but important nonetheless


 

 

Issue 257: July 2008

 "Green Is The New Black"

by Cathleen Kneen

Slow Food is In, fast food is Out. Eating local, buying direct from a farmer, seeking out organic foods, have all become fashionable. Although supply has not yet caught up with demand, those farmers who are able to sell into this ‘high-end’ market are (finally) recouping the costs of production. We haven’t yet figured out how to use this trend to increase the quality of food available to the poor. However, I am sure that the more we can produce our own food, rather than trucking it in from somewhere else, the more that Nature’s abundance will provide extra to feed the whole community – a sort of ‘Zucchini Theory’ of food security.

From a public health perspective, this trend has huge advantages. Aside from the obvious fact that it is much easier to monitor quality in small batches, sales direct from the producer to the consumer are 100% traceable. So you would expect that the CFIA would welcome it with open arms and appropriate standards. After all, as a conscientious CFIA scientist recently revealed, the CFIA is planning to pass the job of monitoring food safety standards over to the industry. To the contrary,
however: while Unilever, Cargill and Saputo are trusted to monitor themselves, small producers and processors are regarded with distrust and burdened with ever-increasing regulation and restrictions, many of which make no sense whatsoever. Where is the risk in selling eggs that have not been graded as to size and weight at the farmers’ market?

Fresh from the disaster of the imposition of regulations on abattoirs in BC – which has left large swaths of the province without any slaughter facilities as the small, locally-focused plants could not afford the fancy upgrades, and caused countless small farms to quit livestock as part of their holistic production systems – the key actors in the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health are reported to be plotting even more comprehensive regulations for all food processing and distribution, which will make the local direct market prohibitively expensive and bureaucratic.

Of course the contradiction is only on the surface. Once you accept that the guiding policy (not to say ideology) is that Bigger Is Better, the spectre of increased numbers of small entrepreneurs becomes the epitome of Risk, to be avoided at any cost. The real risk, of course, is that we continue on this road, driving small producers out of business, depleting rural communities and leaving ourselves dependent on an industrialized, globalized food system controlled by profit-seeking corporations.

My guess is that once people have come to appreciate the real value of locally and ecologically produced foods, they will not willingly give them up. It’s not just trendy, even though Green may be the food fashion basic just as black is the clothing fashion basic. If the government attitude and regulations don’t change, the “Green” market will become the new black market. After all, there is far more risk for all of us in losing our capacity to feed ourselves than there is in eating food that comes from someone you know.

 

#257: July 2008 TOC
"Green is the New Black" - Regulation stifling direct markets may lead to a new black market in local organic food
Government Dismantles Itself - from the CFIA to research, government is handing responsibilities to corporations
A Very Different Attitude - the Bocock family donates most of their farm to the University of Alberta for agriculture research
Ray Epp writes from Hokkaido, Japan, about using wild yeasts 
Sustainable Fuel Initiatives:

  Growing biodiesel for their own farms - a farmers coop in Manitoba grows 'feed' for their 'horsepower'
  Learning Centre Proposes Waste-based Biodiesel - Everdale Centre in Ontario looks at 'renting' their product to restaurants and then recycling it as fuel
  Reducing Carbon Emissions - Prince Charles' Aston-Martin runs on ethanol from 'surplus wine'
  What goes ’round ... - a correspondent notices sustainability behaviour in birds
Corporate Watch:
  Rearranging the Deck Chairs - Mergers and Acquisitions
  Tyson Foods - plans to sell beef interests, focus on chicken
  Cargill & Fertilizer - update on world's primary phosphorus and potash producer
  A Public Food Policy - Food Secure Canada members plan a coast-to-coast public process on food sovereignty policy
 

 

Issue 258: August/September 2008

 Lies and Contradictions

Since we started almost 28 years ago, The Ram’s Horn has been dedicated to looking below the surface of the food system to reveal the way it really works. It is very hard to avoid being mesmerized by the steady stream of reassurances, hype, and downright lies that we are constantly fed.

As we are preparing this issue, we are waiting for an election call which not only flies in the face of the Harper government’s election law, but is based on a ridiculous lie, that the Opposition has rendered Parliament dysfunctional. The truth is that pretty well all of the legislation introduced by this minority government has passed in the House.

pinnochio
Pinnochio
The dysfunction comes from the Tory contempt for Parliament in the tactics it has used to bully its agenda through, and ignoring the law, not to mention the public. Harper, for example, has said he will not be deterred by three legal defeats in the past year as it has sought to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. “The bottom line is this – mark my words – western Canadian farmers want this [marketing] freedom and they are going to get it and anybody who stands in their way is going to get walked over.” (WP, 26/6/08) This election call is based on one of the more egregious lies that we are expected to swallow. This issue will probe into others.

For example (page 2): 13 people have died so far in an outbreak of Listeria traced back to a single processed (pre-cooked) meat plant in Toronto – while the government cuts back on funding for the CFIA, which forever proclaims “We have the safest food in the world.”

Then (page 7) there is the claim by infant-formula-Nestlé to being the “world’s recognized leader in nutrition, health and wellness” – while it joins other bottled water purveyors to form a lobby to ‘protect’ bottled water from environmental attack.

The biotech industry extols the supposed yield increases brought about by GE crops (page 4-5), but throws a tantrum when Prince Charles articulates the real price of GE crops in a nightmare vision of rural depopulation, contamination, and pollution. In response, the Canadian biotech lobby trots out the old technique of the Big Lie: “GM crops are rigorously tested, reduce pesticide use, increase yields, enhance food security, support small farmers, and are environmentally friendly. GM crops are also a part of Canada’s contribution to the world’s economy and food prosperity.”

Meanwhile (page 4), the salvation promised by global agricultural trade fails to materialize as the Doha round on trade talks under the WTO falls flat; the world’s biggest military power fails to get its way; and Monsanto dumps rBGH (page 6) – which it continues to claim is a hot seller – and in turn gets dumped on in court for pushing GE alfalfa.

Along the way (page 6), the debate over food versus agrofuels is laid aside by the new Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy that says there is no contradiction – we can have both, no problem!

Hypnotist

And more.....

 

#258: August/September 2008 TOC
Lies and Contradictions: we are mesmerized by the barrage of lies from government and industry
Fellow Consumers: Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, tries to deal with a major outbreak of listeria
Long Reach: the contaminated meat even got to Labrador
Good News: Doha is Dead -- the failure of the Doha round of trade talks in July is good news
Corn of Many Colours -- a poem
But where is the Yield Gene? -- the industry complains about 'spin' from its opposition!
"Can't see another way out" -- Syngenta head admits lack of vision
Common Sense from Royalty -- Prince Charles has a vision, and a program
Hubris -- the biotech/agrotoxin industry promises salvation
Eli Lilly to buy rBGH -- Monsanto backs off
Ban on GE Alfalfa -- a ban has been upheld by the US Court of Appeals
Seed Industry News -- Monsanto's Chinese joint venture
Nestlé Re-Positions Itself -- and tries to defend bottled water
'Protecting' bottled water -- three companies join in a propaganda push
Urban Organic Farming -- a new centre opens in Guelph, Ontario
GMO GPS -- in Germany, you can find GMO crops on the internet, why not in Canada?

 

 

Issue 259: October 2008

 Troubles and Turmoil

Perhaps the most surprising and disturbing aspect of the current financial situation is that we were all carrying on as if the system was rational and stable. In reality, it is irrationality and volatility that bankers and investors, finance ministers and hedge fund managers bank on, literally – they play, and prey, on the rising and falling of the market. They would all be out of business if prices were stable and actually reflective of real costs. The important question is why the prices – of stock, whether that be livestock or mining company shares – rise and fall. The manipulators would prefer we not identify them, and indeed that is a challenge, though not an insurmountable one.

A more important challenge is drawing the line between the financial sector and the economy. Confusing the two is the essence of capitalism, which rests on the practice of extracting wealth out of the real economy and playing with it in the financial sector. The rich get richer not through interminable toil, but through gains in the financial market of stocks and bonds, with the result that “in all recent years, the pay increases for top executives far exceed the rate of inflation or the gains posted by most workers in Canada.” (G&M, 6/10/08) This remark accompanies a table showing the total ‘compensation’ paid to the CEOs of the 100 largest companies in 2007, including salaries, bonuses, shares and share options, running from $235,000 to $79.2 million.

Balloon Prick

‘Financial sector’ does not equal economy. A financial ‘product’ is not only inedible, it actually has no real existence. It’s a figment of the brokers’ and investors’ imagination. A real economy (‘oikos’ is the Greek word for house) is about how a household organizes its life together, including what it eats.

It is, therefore, a sign of hope that with the ‘food crisis’, the public has become increasingly interested in the real economy of food and how it is grown, where, and by whom, to the point of beginning to distinguish between the financial sector’s grasp of food and the real food economy. This is really the driver behind food sovereignty. It’s about feeding the family and trading the leftovers, not trading the staples and hoping to live on the profits – or, more likely, the losses.

We are looking forward to gaining more insights into the real food economy  at the National Assembly of Food Secure Canada in Ottawa November 7-10th. Under the title Reclaiming Our Food System: A Call to Action, it will showcase the ways in which Canadians are implementing food sovereignty in many different areas, from seeds to food banks. (More information at  www.foodsecurecanada.org.)

So as we watch the ‘financial sector’ spin out of control at the hands of men [sic] appropriating tens of millions of dollars as the companies they head –  or headed – collapse under a burden of debt, we need to remember that the financial sector is a pyramid game built on confidence.  The financial sector neither feeds nor clothes anyone anywhere.

“Since the credit crisis began more than a year ago, investors have been exposed to a murky world of synthetic securities, credit default swaps and structured investment vehicles, convoluted financial tools that even the savviest bankers don’t fully understand. . . With the help of swaps, risk is bought and sold like a commodity by often invisible actors, in a global market with scant regulatory oversight. A decade ago credit default swaps didn’t even exist. Today the market is colossal, worth roughly $50 trillion. . .  Risk has been shuffled around like the pea in a shell game so that no one knows where it ends up.”  – Barrie McKenna, GM 20/9/08

Round and round it goes:  AIG (American International Group) was “once among the most stable financial institutions in the US, turning out a steady stream of profitable quarters.” It is now a ward of the US Government (a taxpayer liability, in other words) after losing $13.16 billion in the first six months of this year stemming from its credit default swaps investments. It had a profit of $8.41 billion in the same period last year.

Coins down the Drain

The one big player that the US Government has not bailed out is Lehman Brothers Holdings, which has rented a 30-floor tower in London’s Canary Wharf development from Canary Wharf Group. If Lehman defaults on its rent, Canary Wharf Group is protected by an insurance policy with AIG. However, it is Songbird Estates, a publicly traded company that owns 60% of Canary Wharf Group, that would be the beneficiary. So round and round it goes.   – Source: GM, 17/9/08

The turmoil of the financial sector has been hard on some of the 400 wealthiest residents of the USA, whose average net worth is, or was, $3.9 billion. Collectively, that means that the 400 richest Americans have a net worth of $1.57 trillion, exceeding Canada’s gross domestic product.     – GM, 18/9/08

Wall Street’s five largest banks awarded a record $39 billion in bonuses last year.     – GM, 15/10/08

Why, then, not let these guys bail out the banks and ‘investment houses’ that have diverted all that money to them rather than sending the bill to the general public, i.e., US taxpayers?

To put this mess into perspective, we noticed that at the end of September, the US House of Representatives passed, and sent on to the Senate, a $612-billion (US) defense authorization bill while at the same time it was debating  the financial crisis and the proposed $700-billion bailout of Wall Street.

Which is the more impressive – or depressing – figure?  $700 billion (and a lot more by now) in an effort to save capitalism from itself, or $612 billion to defend it from .... whom?

 

#259: October 2008 TOC
Troubles and Turmoil: financial market meltdown
Warning: more parasites on the loose - investors move onto Saskatchewan farmland
Obesity - it's corporate obesity we need to worry about
Who gets what: Farm prices and costs - 2008 net farm income is gobbled up by agribusiness
And effects - industrial agriculture run-off causes dead zone
Selling Monsanto - massive propaganda campaign to push GE as the answer to hunger
Small-Scale Organic Seed Production - introducing a useful new publication
Meeting the Millennium Goals - UN President says we have to change the system to address food crisis; US foundations try on more of the same
GM sorghum test approved - Gates Foundation supports research on basic African crop
And not just Africa - Bayer CropScience pushes GE in India
Borneo's "miracle" - tropical rainforest regenerated in only 6 years
Bees - German bees seek urban refuge from GE crops, while Argentine honey crops decline
Paraguay's campesinos fight GE soy - landless and poor farmers occupy Brazilian-owned haciendas in self-protection

 

 

Issue 260: November 2008

 Reclaim the Food System!

by Cathleen Kneen

The theme for Food Secure Canada’s National Assembly, held in Ottawa November 7-10th, was “Reclaiming Our Food System: A Call to Action”. The implication was that the globalized food system is beyond the control of either producers or eaters; recognizing that it is also ecologically unsustainable and unjust, we need to get together to figure out how to take it back. This thinking echoes the principles behind the concept of “food sovereignty” developed by the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, that emphasize local control of both food production and markets, ecological sustainability, and respect for traditional knowledge and foodways. As the key organizer, I had hoped that we would find ways to articulate these principles in a Canadian context and to share stories of what people are doing in all corners of this country to reclaim their piece of the food system.

Of course, when you gather 300 people together with very different backgrounds from all over Canada and when you ensure that most of them are from the ‘front lines’ (farming, fishing, working in community food organizations in Canada and overseas, defending Indigenous territories and traditions), nothing turns out quite the way you planned. In the event, it became clear that reclaiming the food system requires a total transformation of the way we think about it.

In this regard, the keynote session on Friday night did indeed strike the key note. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food, addressing the topic The Food Crisis and Climate Change, pointed out that from his perspective of promoting human rights, climate change hits hardest on those who are already marginalized (and hungry).

Clearly, business as usual is no longer an option; we cannot continue with a global food system which is dependent on shrinking supplies of fossil fuel, which emits increasing amounts of ‘greenhouse gases’, and which fails to feed the world’s population. Food sovereignty, he concluded, is the best strategy. In his response, René Segbenou from Mali, West Africa, commented that the first step in such a strategy is to move away from the place where we are now standing, in order to see from a different perspective. Colleen Ross, as a Canadian organic farmer, made this very concrete in terms of a local food production for the local community.

The human impact on the environment, including the effects of carbon emissions on the environment, hits Indigenous peoples hardest, as their traditional foods are contaminated or disappear altogether. In session after session at the Assembly, Indigenous leaders from BC, Yukon, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Labrador repeated the same theme, describing powerfully the loss of their traditional foods, the caribou, the salmon, which have nourished their spirits and defined their communities. They drew tears and standing ovations from participants – and in the case of Henry Lickers from Akwasasne, laughter. In one of the most powerful presentations of the weekend, Henry addressed the plenary on Resilience as a storyteller, telling how as a teenager fresh off the Reserve he ran a lucrative trap-line (raccoons and skunks) in Toronto – and emphasizing the importance of respect for seeds and for women, the traditional seed-keepers. The call to action, Henry told us, is really a call to consciousness.

dead canary

This approach was demonstrated from the first plenary session of the Assembly, where people working in programs to feed the hungry described what they are doing to respect and enhance the autonomy of the people who come to their programs and to treat them as citizens rather than clients – food sovereignty within the charitable sector. It was summed up by Nick Saul’s description of a Community Food Centre as “burying the food bank within a web of participatory and non-stigmatizing food programs” to make the food bank a site for community engagement, health promotion, social and food justice advocacy. Basically, he said, they unlock the positive side of food, so even though they continue to provide food, it is no longer seen as a food bank, but as a place where people can engage – including engaging in advocacy for both decent incomes and housing and advocacy for a sustainable food system with a fair return to the farmer – which can be done by groups working together, it doesn’t all have to be only one agency. This was echoed by Jean-Paul Faniel, one of the many Québec participants (all the plenary sessions and 5 of the workshops had simultaneous translation) who emphasized the need to work in collaboration among organizations and across other borders as well.

Speaking in the third plenary session, on Living With Risk: Healthy and Safe Food, David Waltner-Toews said we have to think about food less as fuel for our bodies and more as the way in which we are intimate with our environment, so we have to ask our food, as we would ask a sexual partner, ‘who were you with before you came to me?’

My sense of the conference as I moved from session to session, and listened to the conversations in the hallways and over (local, organic) meals, was that people were indeed inspired to think differently and were excited and energised by the ideas and examples that were evident throughout the conference. To give just a few examples: to think of livestock as an integral part of the farm ecology; to think of land in terms of stewardship rather than ownership; to think with young people about the power of food. From the workshop on Agrofuels: “not to reduce energy consumption but to seek alternatives, we must work together and rethink the way we have become a consumer society”; from the workshop on Community Economic Development: “if you need grants to get started that’s not the way to make it happen – investment by the community is the most important step”.

Success is, of course, only 1% inspiration. The other 99% is plain hard work, and the Assembly gave plenty of evidence of that, not only in the stories of what is happening to reclaim, and transform, our food system but also in the 67 different policy and action proposals which were posted on the wall and the twelve Working Groups that were affirmed or established. For me the most exciting new initiative is the People’s Food Policy Project. This project will follow up on the Assembly, working to bring the concepts of food sovereignty into the Canadian context and find appropriate language to develop them here. The perspective of the project is that when we think in terms of food sovereignty we are able to appropriate the authority – rather than to ask for the right – to do what needs to be done. Certainly part of that is to demand policy changes at every level of government; but another and critically important part is to change the political climate and context through citizen action.

As I write this, the media are obsessed with the global financial system, which is mimicking the meltdown of the polar ice, and the forces which are largely responsible for both crises are loudly trumpeting the solution as more of the same: more technology, more ‘free trade’.

Meanwhile, however, the good news is that people across Canada – and around the world – are thoughtfully, respectfully, and stubbornly working to create a food system based on a very different vision.

– More information at www.foodsecurecanada.org

 

#260: November 2008 TOC
Reclaim the Food System! - Cathleen reports on the National Assembly of Food Secure Canada The Hunger Count - Food Banks Canada reports steady numbers at food banks, more groups serving hot meals
Corporate Moves: Updates on Saputo Monsanto Syngenta Big Beef
On the biotech front - Transposons ("jumping genes") don't fit the reductionist model
- If it's GE, is it Ayurvedic? - not according to the traditional Ayurvedic practitioners
- Nontarget Effects: Strong Stalks - BT cornstalks provide overwintering for borers, need to be destroyed
- Argentina: Full of Earth - a local organizing newspaper to publicize landowner abuses
- Markets and Labels (or not) - reports from Korea, Poland, South Africa, and Brazil on GMO approvals and labelling
- On the one hand
- ... and the other - a new GM purple tomato no better than natural alternatives
My two-day field trip with Germany's BASF Plant Science - condensed from a report by Jocelyn Zuckerman in Gourmet Magazine
 

 

2007

Back Issues

Table of Contents and PDF downloads
January 2007 to November 2007

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to download the whole issue by clicking on the icon. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

 

#251: November 2007 TOC pdf
Home on the Range: Brewster looks at the woes of cattle ranchers, with a story from Paul Beingessner
Of course, why didn't we think of that before? - a technological 'solution' for beef farmers
Workers Win Damages Against Pesticide Company - Nicaraguan farmworkers win a suit against Dow Food
Non-GM Premium Prices - soy, canola, and lamb
So why are farmers growing more GM crops? - farmer Colleen Ross explains the pressure to keep up appearances
Collusion - BASF sets the rules for field trials in the UK
The Editorial Process - Writing an article on good fats and bad fats
Chicken Soup ... - announcement of hens manipulated to produce pharmaceutical eggs
... With Rice - and announcement of GE rice to 'grow' pharmaceuticals
The "Tortilla Crisis" - the effects of subsidized corn production for ethanol on food prices
US Farm Subsidies for Mega-Corps - cotton supports go to Cargill
Classifying 'Consumers' - Nestle reveals its target demographics
Just in time for Holiday Giving! - Devlin Kuyek's new book, Good Crop/Bad Crop: Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada is a great read and available, hot off the press, from The Ram's Horn

#250: October 2007 TOC pdf
Bingo! - Cathleen reports on the food security assembly in Newfoundland
R.I.P. Prairie Agriculture Co-Ops - latest merger clearly ends the farmer-led vision
Minister Supports Organics - Saskatchewan government looks favourably on organics
Persistent Bacterium - new research shows bacterium can transfer into other genomes
"We have no clue..." - Dow spokesperson is unusually candid
Energy and Synthetic Fuels - relating energy policy to other policy areas:
    * Synthetic fuels from slaughterhouse waste
    * Agrofuels not climate-friendly
    * A way to sell more
    * Rising food prices, inflation
Cargill update: (see also Cargill Profile under Resources)
    * Record 'earnings' - revenues for the last fiscal year were $88.3 billion
    * Kitchen Solutions (egg and breakfast products division)
    * Biodegradable packaging - an agreement with Teijin (Japan)
    * Cargill Canada - the grain trade
Healthy information policy - Sweden gives out information to public!
Roundup Ready diplomat - US ambassador pushes Afghanistan to spray poppies
What does 'Natural' mean? - we look at ice cream and what it's made of, including fish genes
    * Technical Background from ISIS

#249: September 2007 TOC pdf
Complexity and Diversity are the Rules of the Game: Brewster challenges biotech's Central Dogma, 'one gene, one protein'
GE Insects Opposed in Southern British Columbia: tree fruit growers challenge new rules for importing GE insects
Raising the Steaks: packing plant woes
Good Ol' Mountain Dew Revisited: ethanol plants and selling the spent grains
Cattle Industry Dying From Ethanol Poisoning: Paul Beingessner looks at the sad state of the cattle industry in Canada
Eggs Are Seasonal, Too: Joel Salatin meets a creative chef
Food Aid: CARE opts out of lucractive aid scheme
Water, Cargill, and Corn: biodegradable bottles are still no better than tap water
Monsanto loses, for once: US court refuses to ban advertising of rBGH-free dairy
Lobbying for Agrotoxins and Biotech: a look at CropLife

#248: July 2007 TOC pdf
Railways for Whom?: -- who controls the agenda of the country's major grain transportation?
Organic farming could feed the world -- new research supports small scale organic
    Pesticides reduce fertility: information from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    Is organic food healthier?: research shows higher levels of anti-oxidants
    Win some, lose some: Britain's largest retailer moves to reduce trucking - and cuts Prince Charles off the supplier list
Control of Livestock Genetics -- excerpt from a publication on centralized control of livestock production
Peruvian Region Says No to GM Potatoes -- in an effort to save the centre of origin for this crop
Banana Wars -- a book review
A NAFTA Precedent -- it's not food, but Canada Post win against UPS is a precedent
Improved Food Safety in Sub-Saharan Africa -- new research results on combatting aflatoxin

#247: June 2007 TOC pdf
Extreme Capitalism: moving from covering sheep issues to the issues of monocultures and equity investment
More than cotton fabrics: genetic manipulation of cottonseed
Corporate power: Agrofuels and the Expansion of Agribusiness - excerpts from a new article from GRAIN
Coke, Cargill, and Bottled Water: a series of items
Websites: recommended, the Bioscience Resource Project; request for suggestions for The Ram's Horn site
Brazil's Landless Break Up with Lula: the MST, Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers, launches a strong critique of the President
Judge Bans Bayer's Transgenic Corn: Judicial disapproval in Brazil
Rigged Vote and Magic Sticks: Canada's Agriculture Minister's manipulation of due process
Big Meat: the game of leveraging and mergers and acquisitions in the global meat business
US needs its illegal migrant workers: how the rich get richer, again.

#246: April/May 2007 TOC
The Tyranny of Economic Growth: Brewster says bio-fuels are neither necessary nor helpful; we need to reduce consumption
Insecurity in the Global Food System: the perils of melamine in
gluten, congestion in seaports may hamper global distribution systems
Railway abandonments continue and service declines: in western Canada
Canada lowers standards on agro-toxins to match US: all in the name of increased food quality, of course
GE Alfalfa: Banned in US, Approved in Canada
Balancing Demands: the industry looks at wildlife versus economic
growth, guess who wins
Prairie Cooperatives: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Agricore United
Good News from Brazil: silent attendance by critics at decision panel affects the decisions
Seeds Need to Stay Close to Home: the Fantons are re-localizing the Seed Savers network in Australia
Stopping Short: discussion of the just-in-time system
Where your food dollar goes: update on Cargill's annual profits

#245: March 2007 TOC
Thinking About Food Sovereignty - Cathleen attends the world forum in West Africa
On Subsistence - Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, that contempt for women is central to the modern economy
Bird Flu: A Bonanza for 'Big Chicken' - GRAIN reports how the
industry is using the flu scare to consolidate its hold
Organic vs. Air Miles - arguments about efficiency lead to local and organic
Kenya: Coming Up Roses? - will buying local hurt people in the
developing countries?
Oil News - biggest consumers? ethanol and the Pentagon
Where does the farmers' money go? - a goodly chunk to the CEO of Agricore
Cargill Mill Occupied by Brazil Women - the Landless Rural Workers Movement took over a Cargill facility to protest the distortion of their economy by ethanol; their action is supported around the world on International Women's Day
Chiquita's drug habit - evidence of payoffs to Colombia paramilitary organization
One banana at a time - a new marketing strategy for Chiquita
Monsanto Anti-Farmers Patents - Public Patent Foundation has
succeeded in overturning one of Monsanto's Roundup Ready patents
The confused ideology of neoliberalism - The American Corn Growers Association comes out against Monsanto
Alfalfa : contaminate first - Monsanto seeks approval to spread its
GE alfalfa while it waits for USDA approval
What's a grocery store for? - there's a lot more in a big box than
food (or easy profits)

#244: February 2007 TOC
More ways than one: we examine the case for a diversity of business models
National market share of food sales, 2005 (table)
Not just food and drink: Van Houtte coffee company is looking to break itself up despite profitablity
Cargill: Performing its patriotic duty -- producing ethanol
         Trans-fat free fats -- which are genetically engineered
Big Finance and Bad Ideas: Miguel Altieri and Eric Holt-Gimenez critique the $500 million University of California program on biofuels
Milk without Hormones: Posilac-free milk marketed as 'organic light'
More than just seeds: theological commentary from "Life-giving Agriculture" conference
"Mother-Baby" beats GMOs: researcher-farmer partnership has developed stress-tolerant maize
CWB ... the latest dirt: government appoints CWB Board president but he hasn't been paid yet
Creaming Off the Crop: West African farmers critique Bt cotton

#243: January 2007 TOC
Risks Underestimated -- Brewster looks at what is not know and may not be able to be known about GE
Seed Sector Regulation -- deadline for public input extended -- analysis of the issues
The Gospel According to James -- that's Clive James of the ISAAA
and
Who Benefits from GM Crops -- including an expose of the ISAAA
GM Crops and Labour Saving -- a new study suggests why farmers use GMOs when there is no apparent advantage
Why Precaution Makes Sense -- new facts explain why human guinea pigs almost died
Biofuels, Energy, and the Madness of Economic Growth
Fresh is Best -- keeping broccoli green
Pepsi's Health Food -- and how Whole Foods works

Issue 243: January 2007

Risks Underestimated

 

I have been intuitively, intellectually and morally resisting the advance of genetic engineering (biotechnology) for two decades – not because of what I know, but because I’ve never been convinced that others know as much as they claim to know. My reading of the science tells me the same thing: there is much that is not known, that is pretended to be known, or that cannot, in all honesty, be known. 

I just can’t accept that life is as simple and simplistic as the biotech promoters make it out to be. Their ‘science’ has always struck me as more than a little preposterous and arrogant. Nothing in this world is as simple as the Central Dogma of “One Gene, One Protein” proclaims it to be. There are dialectics and interactions; for every action, a reaction –  somewhere.

One could even say that there is no such thing as a ‘one-way street’ – otherwise, we would never get home again, would we?

If the actual complexities of biology in general, and molecular biology in particular, were fully acknowledged, genetics, genomics, proteonomics, and any other biological ‘omics’ that strike your fancy, would still be the subject of research, but the funding and commercialization might look vastly different. In fact, the chances of GMOs getting out of the lab, past the regulators and onto the market would be about nil. It would be recognized that not enough is known – and may never be known – about what happens when the invasive techniques of genetic engineering are applied to an organism to ever ensure that the resulting GMO is ‘safe’ to release into the environment.

The notion of placing transgenic trees in unrestricted environments would be regarded as insane and/or criminal.

The notion of ‘farming’ transgenic fish or growing a drug-containing canola would be regarded similarly.

And yet transgenic trees are being planted out in Canada virtually without restrictions and with no possible understanding of the forces being unleashed.

boat

“Risk Underestimated” is the title of an incisive collection of interviews with nine scientists on the inherent risks of genetic manipulation, published by Greenpeace International. The following are brief quotes from some of the notable contributors. The initials following each quote identify the contributor.

“Genetic engineering is bound to introduce turbulence in the existing systems.” MB

“A gene can have a lot of different functions – the number of its functions has no upper limit. A gene can also acquire new functions.” MH

“Variation in proteins coded by the same gene may be extremely high like that found in neurexins, a class of proteins involved in neural connections. In that case, more than 2000 proteins can be produced on the basis of the information contained in only three genes.” MB

“How can the environment be encoded in the genome?  We know today that this can be done through gene silencing and gene activation by epigenetic mechanisms.” RS

“Nature, through evolution, has placed between the genome and the phenotype [the outward appearance and characteristics of an organism] a number of complex systems. All of which are context dependent. And these systems together regulate not the gene sequences bu t the pattern of how genes are expressed.  The expression of genes changes when the environment changes.” RS

“Epigenetics is widely recognized in human and animal genetics. Probably also in plants.  But when it comes to practical applications the outdated paradigm of the gene [one gene, one protein] is still dominant.” FK

“The question is, how is it possible that such wrong-headed theories around genetic determinism could be tolerated for so long.? Economic power and, of course, the mixture of the university with the corporations when you cannot tell the difference between the university scientist and somebody working for Monsanto anymore. They are all trained the same way. . . . you have to actually extend to them some sympathy because in some way they actually believe at some level that what they do is correct.” RS

“The study of the composition and the analysis of the substantial equivalence is far below the level of sufficiency to be able to predict any toxicity or any unintended effect of a plant. At least we should introduce mandatory scientific toxicity tests. . . . We should also make it obligatory that a transgene is sequenced after the insertion, not just before the insertion. . . in almost all GMOs the transgenes are no longer the ones published by the companies.” GS

Note: at this time, a url for this document is not available, but we can supply  a paper or electronic  copy on request.

The biotech lobbyists, of course, need not be troubled by the science. They are paid to sell the product, however faulty or dangerous. This is obvious by the following statement from the Argentine Council for Information and Development of Biotechnology (January 2007)

“Economic impact of GM crops in Argentina: Agricultural biotechnology has given the country a $20 billion profit.  During the decade 1996-2005 Argentine agriculture went through a deep transformation. . Biotechnology created 1 million jobs.”

“A study carried out by Drs. Eduardo Trigo and Eugenio Cap for the Argentine Council for Information and Development of Biotechnology, ArgenBio . . .  evaluated the impact of the ten years of adoption of GM crops in Argentine agriculture. Total benefits generated by all three GM crops [soy, maize and cotton] were estimated . . . in excess of 20 billion US dollars. In the case of herbicide-tolerant soybeans, total accumulated benefits for the 1996-2005 period, reached $19.7 billion, distributed as follows: 77.45% to the farmers, 3.90% to seed suppliers, 5.25% to herbicide suppliers and 13.39% to the National Government.”

soapbox

Equally generous benefits are attributed to GE maize and cotton, but there is no mention of the assumptions built into the model that produced these conclusions.  What can be said is that the claims made for GMOs in Argentina far exceed even the most grandiose claims of the biotech industry in the north and bear no resemblance to the reality described by groups such as Grupo Reflexion Rural or the many displaced diversified farmers that used to supply Argentinians with their food.

“Regarding the social impact, the study asserts that the release of herbicide-tolerant soybeans could have contributed to the creation of almost 1 million jobs (whole economy-wide), representing a 36% of the total increase in employment over the period under study.”

Needless to say, there is no accounting for this magnificent figure. Certainly the mega-scale industrial monoculture plantings of soy are not labour intensive and it canot take a million workers to make the small number of tractors required. Just as the biotech industry does not account for all that it excludes from its research results, neither does it account for all its hyperbole. It’s business, after all.;  – B.K.

#243: January 2007 TOC
Risks Underestimated -- Brewster looks at what is not know and may not be able to be known about GE
Seed Sector Regulation -- deadline for public input extended --
analysis of the issues
The Gospel According to James -- that's Clive James of the ISAAA
and
Who Benefits from GM Crops -- including an expose of the ISAAA
GM Crops and Labour Saving -- a new study suggests why farmers use GMOs when there is no apparent advantage
Why Precaution Makes Sense -- new facts explain why human guinea pigs almost died
Biofuels, Energy, and the Madness of Economic Growth
Fresh is Best -- keeping broccoli green
Pepsi's Health Food -- and how Whole Foods works

 

 

Issue 244: February 2007

 

More ways than one

The ruling market ideology is adamant that there is only one way to do business – its way. The “best practices” ideology follows suit. But best for whom? At what cost?  If bio-diversity is essential, why isn’t business-diversity?

Ethanol, produced to fuel North America’s obsession with the private automobile, threatens to reduce the corn-soy ‘rotation’ to the extreme monoculture of corn after corn, at least in the US corn-belt. By the same token, monoculture canola may well push other crops aside to produce biodiesel to keep the trucks on the road hauling industrial food halfway around the world to maintain the appearance of diversity in our supermarkets. (We will not dwell on the fact that these three crops are almost all transgenic!)  Wheat, for the moment at least, retains its primary identity as a food for people.

Use of the term ‘industrial’ to describe North American agriculture seems to be widely accepted these days without protest.  Its practitioners will argue that there is no alternative, however much they may lament the loss of neighbours and the financial precariousness of industrial production maintained only by subsidies.  Monoculture production with massive amounts of purchased inputs – seed, agrotoxins, synthetic fertilizers and credit – is simply assumed to the only real way to feed the world. (The conflict between feeding people and feeding automobiles is only now being noticed, along with the different view of the world and diverse cultural practices offered by organic agriculture.)


truck

A single model for the business of agricultural production as well as for agricultural production itself is not really surprising given the heavily dominant ideology of capital that seeks to rule the world. One could suggest that it all began with Margaret Thatcher in Britain and the slogan, “I’m all right, Jack” with its unspoken “so screw you,” but we actually have to go back a few centuries to understand the origins of this individualism and its capitalist expression in “Western Civilization.” Don’t worry, we’re not going to do that here! We’ll just note the assumption that Western Civilization, with its quaint approach to the world and its inhabitants, is the only reasonable (and to believers, the only possible) world view, which is the context for the notion that there is only one way to do business.

It used to be that businesses succeeded by serving their customers. They provided what people needed and wanted, with advertising functioning primarily as a ‘notice of availability.’ It was accepted that there would be a variety of businesses with similar merchandise, competing with one another, to be sure, but within what one might call a ‘business community’. There were also a large number of effective co-operatives, partnerships and enterprises that provided a diversity of business models. One size did not fit all.

Now the mark of success is getting rid of your competitors, either by buying them out or by forcing them out of business. Quarterly reports, shareholder value, the stock market, mergers and acquisitions (m&a) and absolutely gross executive incomes are now the order of the day.

On the farm front, there were a multitude of sizes and variety of farm enterprises, called simply ‘farms’, not ‘farm businesses’ or ‘operations.’  They were to a great extent self-sufficient and resilient, and not infrequently supported one another in such large tasks as barn-building. Until, that is, the era of corporate growth and greed set in and being competitive became the golden rule of business. Farmers were encouraged, enticed and bribed into thinking of themselves as farm businessmen out to make a profit, even when they were not making a living wage, much less a profit after all expenses were paid. Caught in the cost-price squeeze, farms, like the formerly small and medium-size businesses, began to grow in size, with farmers being encouraged to buy out their neighbours and expand their ‘operations’ in the name of efficiency (for big machinery). Cash flow and the ability to obtain and carry a large debt became the measure of success, not net family income and a healthy diversified community economy. I remember being advised by a local town councillor (himself a farmer) that we should turn our farm into a museum because we had such a variety of activities on our small farm. Never mind that fact that we were one of the largest sheep farms in the east at the time and actually making a living with our farming.

In the view of this farmer-politician, the only valid business structure was one that placed the accumulation of wealth at the pinnacle of achievement. This is deemed to maximize “economic growth” which is the summum bonum, the greatest good. We are not supposed to ask for whom is this the greatest good, but if we read the business press we will quickly notice that it is the greatest good of the shareholders, not the public or the society or even the economy. Henry Ford understood the contradiction between  maximizing short-term profit and the health of the economy as a whole; he insisted on paying his workers enough for them to be his customers as well as his employees. Now globalized capital seeks to utilize the cheapest labour possible, wherever it can be found, including migrant and undocumented workers, in order to maximize profits. The result is a deepening inequity both between and within countries – the unmistakable harbinger of the failure of the economy.

So back to agriculture. Around 1980, when we organized the Northumberland Lamb Marketing Coop, we did not choose the conventional business model for a coop, which was really just another capitalist business model under a different name. Rather, we adopted a business model dedicated to the current welfare of the participants in the business – all the sheep farmers who sold their lambs through the co-op – and not to the welfare of the co-op itself through  capital accumulation.  We did not try to drive anyone out of business but rather to provide service and ‘product’ better than anyone else and provide the best return we could to the farmers. (Northumberlamb is still functioning on the same principles.)

It is unfortunate that today the monoculture of capitalist business structures dominates the agricultural scene just as monoculture industrial agricultural production dominates the landscape. It is even sadder to see the marketing of the diversity of organic foods following the same capitalist model, as if there were no alternative. Farmers, organic included, seem to feel that they have no choice but to follow the dominant business model and buy out or bankrupt their ‘competitors’ if they are to be successful.

What we desperately need are not more capitalist entrepreneurs, but social entrepreneurs, people who have the imagination and skills to put the essential pieces of a business together in a way that actually serves the common good, as Northumberlamb did. As the old saying has it, there are more ways than one to skin a cat.

cat skin

The Northumberlamb story, as told by Brewster and Cathleen Kneen at the Vancouver food security conference in October 2006,  can be heard by going to: www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/cfsc.htm  and clicking on the link. Thanks to Jon Steinman for excellent recording

 

#244: February 2007 TOC
More ways than one: we examine the case for a diversity of business models
National market share of food sales, 2005 (table)
Not just food and drink: Van Houtte coffee company is looking to break itself up despite profitablity
Cargill: Performing its patriotic duty -- producing ethanol
         Trans-fat free fats -- which are genetically engineered
Big Finance and Bad Ideas: Miguel Altieri and Eric Holt-Gimenez critique the $500 million University of California program on biofuels
Milk without Hormones: Posilac-free milk marketed as 'organic light'
More than just seeds: theological commentary from "Life-giving Agriculture" conference
"Mother-Baby" beats GMOs: researcher-farmer partnership has developed stress-tolerant maize
CWB ... the latest dirt: government appoints CWB Board president but he hasn't been paid yet
Creaming Off the Crop: West African farmers critique Bt cotton

 

Issue 245: March 2007

Thinking About Food Sovereignty

by Cathleen Kneen

I was honoured to be one of 500 people (and only 8 Canadians) to be invited to the global Forum For Food Sovereignty, held in Sélingué, Mali, West Africa, at the end of February. Most of the participants were people who earn their living by the work of their hands on the lands, waters, and forests of 86 different countries, and for them the language of food sovereignty seemed to come easily. For me it was a bit more of a stretch, as we have spent the last ten years in Canada working with the language of ‘food security’, which we consider to have both short-term (everyone has access to the food they need) and long-term aspects (the food system is both ecologically and economically sustainable).

I was therefore particularly interested to see how this incredibly diverse collection of people thought about food security and food sovereignty. In a nutshell, it appears to be this:

Food security is essential for people to live a healthy life. However, as readers of The Ram’s Horn are well aware, the food system globally is controlled by a handful of corporations which provide agricultural and food production inputs on an industrial scale, control processing from cattle slaughter to cotton gins, and brand and sell food at retail. They are not all the same corporations, of course, but there are strong links (and a common perspective) between them. And while food may be the focus of their businesses, their responsibility is to provide a return to their shareholders on a quarterly basis; feeding the hungry is purely incidental.

Given this situation, we can claim the right to food  and we should continue to do so  but recognize that governments are not in a position to implement it and corporations are not interested. What we must therefore do is assert food sovereignty: the authority of the people (community, nation, region, even state) to maintain, nurture, and protect their food producing capacity, whether it’s seeds, livestock breeds, water sources, shoreline, forests, soil micro-organisms, or traditional knowledge and practices. It is not, for example, that farmers have the right to save seed – saving seed is what farmers do. Nor is it necessarily an assertion that traditional varieties or practices are better, but rather that we recognize that diversity is the best strategy for survival.

I had a lot of conversations about this at the Forum, and afterwards had the opportunity to visit some farm co-operatives in Benin as a guest of the GRAIN staff for francophone Africa. There we saw food sovereignty being built from the ground up, with women growing and processing a variety of foods to eat and also to market – everything from cassava to oyster mushrooms – while at the same time organizing for farmer and regional autonomy, for example opposing the use of genetically modified seeds under the slogan“OGM = Organization Génératrice de la Mort  – Organization pour Mort des Campagnes” (in English, it would be GMO = Death-dealing Organization, Organization for the Death of the Countryside).

traditional maize varieties
traditional maize varieties

The conference was named after Nyéléni, “first daughter” in the Mandé language, and the name of an iconic Malian woman who through her hard work produced food, preserved and developed food crops, and supported the whole family. She stands for women as proud in themselves and their social role.  The meeting place was dominated by a very tall, slender statue of Nyéléni in the traditional West African style. In her shadow (literally) our efforts to develop an action agenda for food sovereignty started with the concrete: We began with the question: What are we fighting for? with special emphasis on what food sovereignty means at the local level; we then moved on to an analysis of the forces and tensions which are preventing food sovereignty under the question, What are we fighting against? Finally, we talked about what we can do about it: how to strengthen our movements, locally and globally. In some ways it was like the World Social Forum but with a strong commitment to come out with an action plan.

A range of actions were proposed: to promote a ban on the ‘Terminator’ technology; to stop dumping of low-price foodstuffs under the guise of food aid; to identify and publicize local knowledge so it cannot be privatized; to share information from research conducted at the very local level so as to counter corporate propaganda (eg. on the health effects of GMOs); to work on direct markets and sharing with urban and consumer groups; to oppose privatization of water and of coastal areas; to protect land access for indigenous communities.

        In Africa, as elsewhere, women are central to this effort, and the Forum began with a Women’s Day to ensure women’s perspectives were included in the later discussions. I had been asked to facilitate the theme on local knowledge and technology for the Forum, so I attended the women’s meeting on that theme as well. This small but diverse group had surprisingly little trouble agreeing to some basic questions to ask of any new technology:

  • do people have a real choice as to how to use it, and whether to use it or not?
  • who controls or owns it?
  • who benefits from it? does it benefit society at large?
  • does it leave space for the practice and teaching of traditional knowledge and methods?
  • does it encourage operation at a human scale?

The women’s group also emphasized the integrated and spiritual aspects of traditional ‘technology’. A woman from Brazil commented “traditional knowledge is in the seed itself” so the loss of plant species through and the imposition of ‘modern’ practices has led to huge losses in terms of both food and medicine. There are illnesses we used to be able to treat, she said, but we have lost both the plants and the knowledge of how to use them, including the appropriate ceremonies. The theft and the destruction of traditional knowledge has to be addressed internationally and we need public access research into traditional medicine and practices.

It is the poor and indigenous communities who suffer most from the imposition of monoculture and the consequent loss of their biodiversity and opportunity for appropriate and balanced diets. This monoculture is imposed in many ways. One technique is food aid, which dumps foodstuffs at prices below what the local producers need for their products, while the population learns to eat foreign foods (eg. wheat instead of millet). Local producers are thus forced into producing crops for the export markets. “Africa’s hunger,” declared one of the women, “is a result of colonialism.” Another example: in Chile there is a traditional breed of chickens which lay blue eggs. Now they have used those genetics to develop ‘industrial’ hens which require special food etc. but produce blue eggs, so people buy them thinking they are supporting the local small farmers.

Nyeleni cooks
Nyeleni cooks

Later discussions continued these themes. As an Indian village woman put it, food sovereignty begins at home. “Food sovereignty for us means that the women have cows,” she said, “and they can sell the milk and get money, or they can barter for other food with their neighbours.”  A Sri Lankan added: “When we visit friends, they can say, ‘Do you want red or white rice?’ and we can eat what we prefer – and the curries that go with it.

“When we have food sovereignty,” a traditional herder from India told me, “we are not dependent on the outside for our food, and we can use our traditional breeds and varieties without threat of contamination.” A young woman from Lebanon noted that this is particularly important in situations of conflict and occupation, while a delegate from Indonesia added that it is also critical to the resilience of communities struck by disaster (such as tsunami) as well as conflict.

“When we go to talk to the government,” said a woman from the Philippines, “they tell us that people in the US have been eating GMOs for 10 years with no ill effect; but our research shows that when GM corn was introduced on one of the island provinces of our country, we documented several health problems.” A delegate from Sri Lanka agreed. The problem, he said, is that there is no money for this kind of research, only for research which shows positive results. His team of academics and peasants found that after the imposition of a GM rice, there was a significant increase in a number of diseases which are also on the rise in North America, including diabetes, cancer, and infertility.

Although the majority of the participants were peasants and farmers associated with the global peasant organization, La Via Campesina, others from consumer groups and urban movements shared the same perspective. “We have to build alliances between consumers and producers,” said a woman from the Netherlands. “We have to insist on the value of food which is grown or harvested in our own regions, to protect the livelihoods of the people who produce and process our food.”

At Nyéléni, this understanding of food sovereignty as being built ‘brick by brick’ was reflected in the daily reality of our conference. The conference centre was a specially-constructed traditional African village of round whitewashed mud-brick huts with conical thatched roofs where we slept, and open-air meeting places protected from the blazing sun with roofs and walls of woven grass mats. A bank of cement cubicles held pit toilets with water taps and cold-water showers (which frequently worked) and after the first day there was even electricity. All this was constructed specially for  Nyéléni and remains as a facility for future conferences. Our food was also traditional, vats of millet, rice, and stews cooked on open fires by a team of local women. Like the interpreters, the administrators, and the medics, they were all volunteers. The result was that even though we often did not share a language (the conference operated in French, English, Spanish, and the local language, Bambara) there was a real sense of community. It is a strong foundation upon which to build our world-wide movement for food sovereignty.

Nyeleni village
Nyeleni village

#245: March 2007 TOC
Thinking About Food Sovereignty - Cathleen attends the world forum in West Africa
On Subsistence - Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, that contempt for women is central to the modern economy
Bird Flu: A Bonanza for 'Big Chicken' - GRAIN reports how the
industry is using the flu scare to consolidate its hold
Organic vs. Air Miles - arguments about efficiency lead to local and organic
Kenya: Coming Up Roses? - will buying local hurt people in the
developing countries?
Oil News - biggest consumers? ethanol and the Pentagon
Where does the farmers' money go? - a goodly chunk to the CEO of Agricore
Cargill Mill Occupied by Brazil Women - the Landless Rural Workers Movement took over a Cargill facility to protest the distortion of their economy by ethanol; their action is supported around the world on International Women's Day
Chiquita's drug habit - evidence of payoffs to Colombia paramilitary organization
One banana at a time - a new marketing strategy for Chiquita
Monsanto Anti-Farmers Patents - Public Patent Foundation has
succeeded in overturning one of Monsanto's Roundup Ready patents
The confused ideology of neoliberalism - The American Corn Growers Association comes out against Monsanto
Alfalfa : contaminate first - Monsanto seeks approval to spread its
GE alfalfa while it waits for USDA approval
What's a grocery store for? - there's a lot more in a big box than
food (or easy profits)

 

Issue 246: April/May 2007

 The Tyranny of Economic Growth

by Brewster Kneen

“Access to an adequate energy supply at reasonable cost is crucial for sustained economic growth.”
 – U.S. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology,
(see RH #243)

That’s the problem in a nutshell: the unquestioned assumption of economic growth with its dependency on high energy consumption. With the imminent demise of endless oil, biofuels are now touted as the saviour of sustainable economic growth, simply compounding the problem.

In previous Ram’s Horns I have noted that many of the problems produced by biotechnology derive from its central dogma of one gene, one protein. In the same way, sustained economic growth is the central dogma of western civilization in general and capitalism in particular. The realization of what fuels this growth has finally emerged from the dark of the coal mines and oil wells, as we observe the depletion of fossil fuels and the relentless consumption of all other so-called natural resources.

After a couple of centuries of this, it has finally dawned on us (or most of us) that these resources are finite in supply and that their extraction and consumption is wreaking havoc on what we refer to as ‘the environment’.

Actually, the words and concepts ‘resources’ and ‘environment’ and the way we use them are part of the problem: both have come to refer to something outside of and apart from us, even something over against us, rather than intrinsic elements of our own lives. ‘Resources’ implies things that are there for us to exploit, particularly for ‘economic growth.’ Just think of the implications of the term ‘genetic resources’ and the attitude toward life forms – plants, animals or humans – that it implies.

In exploiting and consuming ‘natural resources,’ including fossil fuels, to achieve our economic growth, we have paid little attention to the costs we have externalized in the process – the cost to other peoples and their habitat, or the cost to our environment.  It is time to call for a halt to economic growth, to the process of the rich getter richer by depriving others, (what used to be called greed) which is simply bad ecology and worse ethics.

Take Harper & Co. (after a year in office it still insists on calling itself “Canada’s New Government”) which is considerably more closely attuned to US madman Bush than to ecological reality.  Its late-March budget announced the allocation of $2 billion in support of renewable fuel production as well as $1.5 billion in direct subsidies to producers of corn-based ethanol. The renewable fuel fund specifically mentions Iogen, which operates a demonstration plant near Ottawa to convert cellulosic biomass (straw, switchgrass, plantation trees such as poplars) to ethanol.

This may sound like a good thing – certainly for the major ethanol producers such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill – but only as long as one does not make the connection with the private automobile and the trucking industry. Ethanol proponents argue that adding 5% ethanol to gasoline in Canada would produce an emissions reduction equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road, but of course those cars (not to mention trucks) are not actually being taken off the road, and the highways they require will cost the public unaccounted-for billions, both in terms of taxes and environmental degradation, to say nothing of maintenance and new construction costs.


oil junkie

The competition for biomass to feed the highly subsidized ethanol industry has recently driven up the price of corn/maize, soybeans and canola, and while this may appear of benefit to the farmers, the price of industrial agricultural inputs – nitrogen fertilizer produced from natural gas as well as patented seeds and agrotoxins – has risen as well. Meanwhile farmers are encouraged by the Canadian government to “participate” in the ethanol bonanza by investing their savings in local ethanol plants, only to be told by the big energy companies that they will not be looking for ethanol from small plants spread all over the countryside, but from big ethanol producers, such as ADM and Cargill.

These ethanol producers are, by and large, the grain traders, so as usual they benefit coming and going. Their raw material, maize, is heavily subsidized by the US government, and so is their product, ethanol. Agriculture remains at the short end of the stick as the supplier of raw materials.

“So why the stampede to make ethanol from corn? Because we [the USA] have so much of it, and such a powerful lobby promoting its consumption. Ethanol is just the latest chapter in a long, sorry history of clever and profitable schemes to dispose of surplus corn: there was corn liquor in the 19th century; feedlot meat starting in the 1950’s and, since 1980, high fructose corn syrup. We grow more than 10 billion bushels of corn a year in this country, far more than we can possibly eat . . . We probably can’t eat much more of the stuff without exploding, so the corn lobby is targeting the next unsuspecting beast that might help chomp through the surplus: your car.”
 – Michael Pollan, New York Times, 24/5/06
(see RH #240)

The addiction to fossil fuels induces outrageous behaviour. An illustration of this is the development of the tar sands in northern Alberta, which are sand more or less saturated with bitumen, or very heavy oil. Separating the heavy oil from the sands requires very large amounts of water and natural gas (to heat the sands so that the bitumen is somewhat fluid). Needless to say, the open-pit process is also a disaster for the landscape. However, “The Conservative government has signaled that it won’t let its climate change plan derail aggressive oil sands expansion, exempting new projects from greenhouse gas emission targets until three years after they are up and running.”    (G&M, 27/4/07)  Even then, companies can continue to increase production and pollution emissions while meeting the so-called “intensity targets” set by the government, since “intensity targets” refers not to an actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but to producing no more pollution per unit of production. Thus more production equals more pollution. Environment Minister Baird said the new plan seeks to balance the environmental goals with the needs of a growing economy, explaining that the government feels it necessary not to impose initial emission limits on new plants in order to allow for economic growth.


feeding corn to cars

If the Canadian government were seriously concerned about the environment, it would address the problems directly rather than offer yet more subsidies to its corporate sponsors, particularly the large oil companies operating in Alberta.

A major issue that must be addressed, for example, is our excessive dependence on the truck and automobile. What is needed is development of public transit and local production. The only way to get the automobiles off the road is with massive improvements in public transit of all sorts, including rail. There is already good (but not adequate) train and bus service between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, so all air travel between these cities could be eliminated immediately.  The resulting increase in demand for super-train service would make it feasible, particularly if the public money (subsidies) currently spent on roads and highways were shifted to the development of public transit.

 The same process could be applied region by region across the country. When we lived in Sorrento, British Columbia, a mainline railway passed our place, but it carries no passengers, so we had little choice but to drive and/or fly the 430 km to Vancouver.  (The trains carry coal and sulfur to Vancouver Port and return with containers full of stuff from China  to fill retail shelves across the country.)

In Brazil, renewable sources account for 40% of total energy use, compared to the world average of 14%.  In 2006, Brazil became self-sufficient in oil production, chiefly because sugar-cane ethanol provides the fuel for 40% of domestic transportation. Ethanol is now produced from more than 500 cane varieties without irrigation; the raw cane is used to produce either sugar or ethanol, and in both cases the byproduct (bagasse) is used to generate heat and power in mills that can produce either. As a result, Brazil’s ethanol is the cheapest to produce in the world.
– Annette Hester, G&M, 7/3/07,www.igloo.org/whesternhemisphere/afreshap

 

#246: April/May 2007 TOC
The Tyranny of Economic Growth: Brewster says bio-fuels are neither necessary nor helpful; we need to reduce consumption
Insecurity in the Global Food System: the perils of melamine in
gluten, congestion in seaports may hamper global distribution systems
Railway abandonments continue and service declines: in western Canada
Canada lowers standards on agro-toxins to match US: all in the name of increased food quality, of course
GE Alfalfa: Banned in US, Approved in Canada
Balancing Demands: the industry looks at wildlife versus economic
growth, guess who wins
Prairie Cooperatives: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Agricore United
Good News from Brazil: silent attendance by critics at decision panel affects the decisions
Seeds Need to Stay Close to Home: the Fantons are re-localizing the Seed Savers network in Australia
Stopping Short: discussion of the just-in-time system
Where your food dollar goes: update on Cargill's annual profits
 

 

Issue 247: June 2007

Extreme Capitalism

 

Some of our very faithful readers will remember when The Ram’s Horn was devoted to all things sheep. It’s been a number of years now since a subscriber commented, ‘there is nothing about sheep in this issue!’ That subscriber is still with us, though, as we have expanded our horizons, and increasingly find ourselves focusing on the unrelenting advance of corporate consolidation and control which has come to characterize the global industrial food system. At the same time, of course, people are ‘pushing back’ through small-scale, locally-focused and ecological food and farming systems around the world.

As these two radically different agendas create stark alternatives, both farmers and the public have to make fundamental choices as to which road to take. Via Campesina offers the peasant way of food sovereignty, a subsistence perspective (in the words of Maria Mies), and a clear negation of  industrial production and corporate control, including control via genetic engineering, patenting and identity preserved contracts.

As for ‘the public’, some large environmental organizations seem to find it impossible to recognize the profound contradictions between the two paths. For example, World Wildlife Fund supports corporate monoculture GE soy production in South America, albeit with some qualifications, while the Nature
Conservancy supports tree plantations for biofuel production. Fortunately there are other organizations, such as GRAIN <www.grain.org and the World Rainforest Movement <www.wrm.org.uy> which have a clear head and a clear analysis of interests being pursued and games being played. The International Rivers Network <www.irn.org/> is another, with a critical focus on big rivers and dams.

It is, of course, in the interests of what used to be called agribusiness to mask their manipulations of wealth and power. The promotion of monoculture, GM agro-fuels as the ‘green’ solution to the energy crisis is one method. Another is the move to mammoth equity investment schemes which permit greater and greater concentration of control and profit at a level far removed from ordinary shareholders or the businesses they are assumed to control.

Example: The Amsterdam-based international food-and-beverage retailer Ahold NV sold its subsidiary US Foodservice, to a group of private-equity investors in a deal valued at $7.1 billion. The consortium buying US Foodservice, which supplies food to restaurants and hotels, is comprised of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Fund VII LP and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. – WSJ, 3/5/07

sheep

Example: Carrefour SA, the world’s second-largest retailer, has agreed to buy Brazilian discounter Atacadao for about $1.09 billion (US). The deal will make Carrefour the largest food retailer in South America’s largest economy.  Carrefour’s total sales in Brazil in 2006 came to $5.16 billion.                   – FT, 24/4/07

Example:
 Emer ÓBroin, Monsanto’s VP Environmental Safety, Health and Human Rights, is the new Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) of the USA. Monsanto has been involved with WHC since 1989. “WHC is a nonprofit, non-lobbying organization dedicated to increasing the quality and amount of wildlife habitat on corporate, private and public lands. WHC devotes its resources to building partnerships with corporations and conservation groups to create solutions that balance the demands of economic growth [our emphasis] with the requirements of a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable environment.”                            – www.wildlifehc.org

Example:
 Monsanto made its first bid to buy Delta & Pine Land, the world’s largest cotton seed company, in 1998. The deal collapsed amid global controversy over Delta & Pine Land’s Terminator patent. In August 2006, Monsanto announced its second try for Delta & Pine Land; in June 2007 the United States Justice Department gave the green light for Monsanto’s $1.5 billion takeover of Delta and Pine Land (D&PL) contingent on divestiture of its Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co. and NexGen cotton seed brand.  Monsanto has completed the sale of Stoneville to Bayer CropScience for $310 million and NexGen to Americot for $6.8 million, allowing it to proceed with the incorporation of  the D&PL business into its existing operations and policies.  At the same time, Monsanto has reaffirmed its existing policy not to develop or utilize sterile seed technology, such as the so-called ”terminator” technology, to which Delta and Pine Land has rights.
                      – www.Monsanto.com, 19/6/07

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, accounts for more than one-fifth of the global proprietary seed market.  Based on 2006 revenues, the top 10 seed corporations account for 55% of the commercial seed market worldwide.  The top 3 companies – Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta – account for $8,552 million, or 44% of the total proprietary seed market. – www.etcgroup.org

Although Monsanto repeatedly insists that it does not hold patents on Terminator, Monsanto was granted a Terminator patent published under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, WO97/44465 “Method for Controlling Seed Germination Using Soybean ACYL COA Oxidase Sequences.” The 91-page patent, published in November 1997, details the company’s research on genetic seed sterilization and offers evidence of the company’s intention to apply for patents worldwide. The Canadian Patent Office granted a patent to Delta & Pine Land and the US Department of Agriculture for the Terminator technology they developed together in October, 2005.

Monoculture - from an art exhibit by Kim Jei-Min, Seoul

Monoculture - from an art exhibit by Kim Jei-Min, Seoul


 

 

#247: June 2007 TOC
Extreme Capitalism: moving from covering sheep issues to the issues of monocultures and equity investment
More than cotton fabrics: genetic manipulation of cottonseed
Corporate power: Agrofuels and the Expansion of Agribusiness - excerpts from a new article from GRAIN
Coke, Cargill, and Bottled Water: a series of items
Websites: recommended, the Bioscience Resource Project; request for suggestions for The Ram's Horn site
Brazil's Landless Break Up with Lula: the MST, Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers, launches a strong critique of the President
Judge Bans Bayer's Transgenic Corn: Judicial disapproval in Brazil
Rigged Vote and Magic Sticks: Canada's Agriculture Minister's manipulation of due process
Big Meat: the game of leveraging and mergers and acquisitions in the global meat business
US needs its illegal migrant workers: how the rich get richer, again.
 

 

 

Issue 248: July 2007

Railways for Whom?

 

The history of Canada and Canadian agriculture is tightly bound up with the history, politics and financial interests of its two railroads: Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. Both played a major role in the colonization of western Canada and the shape of its agriculture as a function of evolving federal policy.  CP was always a private corporation, CN was privatized in 1995.

Great Northern Grain Terminals Ltd. (GNG), a small northern Alberta grain company, lodged a complaint of discrimination against Canadian National earlier this year for its systematic favouring of the largest of grain shippers, such as Cargill, ADM and Bunge, while making it virtually impossible for smaller grain shippers to get any kind of reasonable service from the railroad. In deciding in favour of GNG, the Canadian Transportation Agency said:

“In establishing car supply policies that have restrictive terms and conditions like minimum order durations that exclude significant segments of the shipper community, CN unilaterally becomes the arbiter of which of its captive shippers are eligible for a competitive advantage. Through its virtually exclusive control of rail service in portions of the western Canadian grain market, CN creates an imbalance and, inevitably, as seen in this case, a failure in the marketplace.”

The federal regulator ruled that the railway had discriminated against small shippers by dropping a program that allowed shippers to forward book 50 rail cars at a time and by implementing an incentive program for companies that can load 100 cars for a minimum of 30 consecutive weeks. “The agency finds that CN’s current car distribution options constitute a significant deterioration in the service options previously.”

Under the system introduced by CN a year ago, if a company such as GNG wanted cars, it had to bid on them in an auction and pay a premium. CN argued that in a deregulated system it has the right to offer different programs to encourage more efficient grain movement and the CTA doesn’t have the authority to interfere. . . Despite the deregulation of grain transportation in recent years, the CTA ruling stated, Canada’s railways are still obliged to meet what’s called ‘common carrier obligations’ and a ‘specified level of service’.”                                           – MC, 12/7/07

The CTA ordered CN to accommodate GNG’s shipping needs, make its car allocation process ‘fair, fully transparent and not discriminatory,’ have enough cars to meet its level of service obligations, offer 50% of its cars through general allocation, make 50-car blocks the minimum for advance car orders and allow shippers to trade among themselves. The CTA also ordered CN to stop auctioning cars to the highest bidder (this being important because the railways can influence the price by restricting the number of cars on offer).

fat cat

It’s not just the grain shippers that have problems with the railroads. Pulse Canada (pulses include lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, fababeans and fenugreek) says that shippers of pulses (“special crops”) face problems such as timely access to railcars and containers, unfair allocation of equipment, dealing with rail cars that are unfit for transporting food items, and inconsistent and unreliable service from the railroads.                           – WP, 12/7/07

How the railroads will respond to, i.e. obey, the CTA decision remains to be seen. One must not underestimate the historic political power of the railroads, which retain an army of lobbyists – 117 of them – in Ottawa. And it was the Federal Government that sold off Canadian National and deregulated the railways  in the first place. 

“The Canadian National Railways (CNR) was created between 1918 and 1923, comprising several railways that had become bankrupt and fallen into federal government hands, along with some railways already owned by the government. . . In 1992 a new management team led by ex-federal government bureaucrats, Paul Tellier and Michael Sabia, started preparing CN for privatization by emphasizing increased productivity. This was achieved largely through aggressive cuts to the company’s bloated and inefficient management structure, widescale layoffs in its workforce and continued abandonment or sale of its branch lines. . . The CN Commercialization Act was enacted into law on July 13, 1995 and by November 28, 1995, the federal government had completed an initial public offering (IPO) and transferred all of its shares to private investors.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_National_Railway

Nor should one assume that the role and responsibility of the railroads is to serve farmers, shippers, or even Canada. A week after the CTA decision concerning GNG the business press reported that a private equity consortium led by Brookfield Asset Management and including Goldman Sachs & Co and Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec was “stalking” Canadian Pacific Railroad. The aim of such a buyout, of course, would be to squeeze greater profits out of CPR for the benefit of its owners. In 2006 CPR reported a profit of $796 million on sales of $4.58 billion, or 17%. That’s a great deal more than any farmer’s GIC or savings account is providing, and a great deal more than the farm itself returns.  It should be noted that Brookfield is not an innocent: until 2005 it was known as Brascan, with a colorful history both in Canada and in South America.

“Brookfield Asset Management Inc., focused on property, power and infrastructure assets, has over US$70 billion of assets under management. We own and manage one of the largest portfolios of both premier office properties and hydroelectric power generation facilities as well as transmission and timberland operations, located in North and South America and Europe.” – <www.Brookfield.com>

As usual, there is probably more in Brookfield’s vision than it appears. In this case, it might just be the money to be made by the railways in hauling potash from Saskatchewan to a deep water port to the west or south – or to the US corn belt.

track and elevator

Global demand, much of it highly subsidized, has enabled the fertilizer companies to substantially increase their prices this year.  Saskatchewan’s potash mining companies (Potash Corp., the world’s largest potash producer  in terms of capacity with 22 per cent of the total), Agrium Inc. and Cargill’s Mosaic Co. are among the beneficiaries. Worldwide, the three crops using the most potash per hectare planted are sugar cane, palm oil and corn, in that order. Saskatchewan sells vast quantities of potash to Malaysia, the world’s biggest supplier of palm oil; Brazil, the world’s second largest producer of ethanol, produced from sugar which requires about four times as much potash per hectare as wheat or soybeans; and the US, for corn production.. This year, farmers in the US have planted the highest number of acres with corn since 1944 as the subsidized demand for ethanol has boomed. Of course, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, as suppliers of seed corn, are laughing all the way to the bank as well.

 

#248: July 2007 TOC
Railways for Whom?: -- who controls the agenda of the country's major grain transportation?
Organic farming could feed the world -- new research supports small scale organic
    Pesticides reduce fertility: information from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    Is organic food healthier?: research shows higher levels of anti-oxidants
    Win some, lose some: Britain's largest retailer moves to reduce trucking - and cuts Prince Charles off the supplier list
Control of Livestock Genetics -- excerpt from a publication on centralized control of livestock production
Peruvian Region Says No to GM Potatoes -- in an effort to save the centre of origin for this crop
Banana Wars -- a book review
A NAFTA Precedent -- it's not food, but Canada Post win against UPS is a precedent
Improved Food Safety in Sub-Saharan Africa -- new research results on combatting aflatoxin
 

 

 

Issue 249: September 2007

Complexity and Diversity are the Rules of the Game

 

by Brewster Kneen

Remember the  little slogan – “one gene, one protein”– which laid the foundation for the ready approval of genetic engineering by Agriculture Canada, then the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to say nothing of the US regulatory apparatus. Since then there has been almost a daily announcement of the discovery of a gene for this or that – obesity, hyperactivity, menopause, baldness, even sexual orientation. Perhaps it’s the gene for skepticism that keeps me saying “Nothing in life is that simple!” Long ago I started to just skip an article as soon as I spotted the word ‘promise,’ or some other conditionality, such as ‘if successful.’

“Biofortified Sorghum: the Promise of Improved Health and Nutrition”
“Sorghum is a dietary staple for more than half a billion people around the world because of its unique ability to grow in dry environments where irrigation is not accessible or affordable. However, it lacks some essential nutrients and is not easily digested.

“Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, is partnering with Africa Harvest (Florence Wambugu,CEO & project coordinator) as the scientific lead institution on the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project. The Project, with a budget of $18.6 million over five years, is funded by the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, itself funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“The ABS project provides a ‘promising long-term solution – using biofortification – to fight hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in Africa,’ according to Pioneer scientist Paul Anderson, principal investigator of the project. . . .

If successful, in the long term, the project could help improve the health of 300 million people in Africa.”
[our italics] – The Africa Journal, USA, 1/7/07

Life was very simple in those days – and incredibly simplistic. The ‘scientists’ assured themselves and everyone else that they really did know what they were doing with their violent genetic interventions. The public remained skeptical, but the world of business and government wanted to believe the promises of the scientists and acted accordingly. So virtually every novel genetic construct devised in the name of ‘improvement’ to nature’s offerings was accepted as ‘safe’ and put on the market, starting about 12 years ago. Now the birds of truth – or genetic consequences – are coming home to roost.

gene
brewster

The Gene for Skepticism

Nothing could be further from the truth than ‘one gene, one protein.’ Diversity, complexity, and constant change (‘evolution’) are the biological facts of life. Of course, lots of  people have known this for a very long time. If  biology followed the rule of ‘one gene one protein’, diversity as we know it, including human diversity, would not exist.

To illustrate:

(1) “In June, a consortium of scientists published findings that challenge the traditional view of how genes function. The exhaustive four-year effort was organized by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute and carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world. To their surprise, researchers found that the human genome might not be a “tidy collection of independent genes” after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single function, such as a predisposition to diabetes or heart disease. Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood. . .

The presumption that genes operate independently has been institutionalized since 1976, when the first biotech company was founded. In fact, it is the economic and regulatory foundation on which the entire biotechnology industry is built. . .  Known as the Central Dogma of molecular biology, it stated that each gene in living organisms, from humans to bacteria, carries the information needed to construct one protein. . .  The scientists who invented recombinant DNA in 1973 built their innovation on this mechanistic, “one gene, one protein” principle. . . Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today’s commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals.

‘The real worry for us has always been that the commercial agenda for biotech may be premature, based on what we have long known was an incomplete understanding of genetics,’ said Professor Jack Heinemann of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury in New Zealand  . . . Yet to date, every attempt to challenge safety claims for biotech products has been categorically dismissed, or derided as unscientific. A 2004 round table on the safety of biotech food, sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, provided a typical example: ‘Both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products,’ said Dr. Henry I. Miller, who was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration, and presided over the approval of the first biotech food in 1992.”
– Denise Caruso, NYT, 1/7/07

Now that the consortium’s findings have cast the validity of that theory into question, it may be time for the biotech industry to re-examine the more subtle effects of its products, and to share what it knows about them with regulators and other scientists.

eggs

(2) The complexity and unpredictability of biotech is neatly described in an article in, of all places, Harvard Business Review (Oct 2006), titled “Can Science be a Business – Lessons from Biotech.”  The author, Gary P. Pisano, refers particularly to the drug industry, but his insights apply equally well to plant biotechnology. His thesis is that while “the anatomy of the biotechnology industry looks quite similar to those of other high-tech sectors, such as software and semiconductors,” this anatomy does not work for biotech, because of the  “profound and persistent uncertainty, rooted in the limited knowledge of human biological systems and processes.”

The failure of biotech as business, Pisano writes, is also due to the intuitive or tacit nature of the knowledge in the diverse disciplines required in biotech research and development. In other words, the ‘precision’ that was the marketing hype of biotech for years was so much nonsense.

Pisano’s comments on the biopharmaceutical industry can equally be applied to food. “Whether a drug [food] candidate is safe and effective can be determined only through a lengthy process of trial and error. Despite extraordinary progress in genetics and molecular biology over the past few decades, scientists still find it extremely difficult to predict how a particular new molecule will work in humans.” If this is true, and there is no reason to think it is not, then the regulatory agencies that have been approving genetically engineered food and drugs based on simplistic and erroneous logic are behaving in criminal fashion with their speedy approvals of novel foods and powerful, but mysterious, drugs.

(3) Another illustration of the growing recognition of         nature’s complexity and the unpredictability of biotechnology is the recent publication of the whole genome of  J. Craig Venter. Venter has gained notoriety for a variety of reasons, but mostly for trying to sequence the human genome a few years ago before anyone else so that he could patent it all. John Sulston, working for the Wellcome Trust in Britain and committed to sequencing the human genome and putting all the data in the public domain, got the better of Venter who ended up, in effect, as a collaborator. (For Sulston’s story of the human genome project, read The Common Thread, 2002.) What is fascinating about the sequence of Venter’s very own genome is the revelation – or is it a confession – that his (or anyone else’s) genome is vastly more complex than anyone anticipated.

“Each time we peer deeper into the human genome we uncover more valuable insight into our intricate biology,” said Dr. Venter. “With this publication we have shown that human to human variation is five to seven-fold greater than earlier estimates proving that we are in fact more unique at the individual genetic level than we thought.” He added, “It is clear however that we are still at the earliest stages of discovery about ourselves and only with the sequencing of more individual genomes will we garner a full understanding of how our genes influence our lives.”
– J. Craig Venter Institute, Press Release, 3/9/07

Venter will probably be long gone before “we garner a full understanding,” but such arrogance has been the driver and ‘stuff’ of biotech up to now.

 

#249: September 2007 TOC
Complexity and Diversity are the Rules of the Game: Brewster challenges biotech's Central Dogma, 'one gene, one protein'
GE Insects Opposed in Southern British Columbia: tree fruit growers challenge new rules for importing GE insects
Raising the Steaks: packing plant woes
Good Ol' Mountain Dew Revisited: ethanol plants and selling the spent grains
Cattle Industry Dying From Ethanol Poisoning: Paul Beingessner looks at the sad state of the cattle industry in Canada
Eggs Are Seasonal, Too: Joel Salatin meets a creative chef
Food Aid: CARE opts out of lucractive aid scheme
Water, Cargill, and Corn: biodegradable bottles are still no better than tap water
Monsanto loses, for once: US court refuses to ban advertising of rBGH-free dairy
Lobbying for Agrotoxins and Biotech: a look at CropLife
 

 

 

Issue 250: October 2007

BINGO!

 

There’s a game called “Food Security Bingo” where you can only cross off a square that is called if it fits you. But I had no trouble with the question “Name a culture based on corn” – it’s North America, obviously. Just about everything we eat is based on corn, fractionated (isn’t that a lovely word?) into ingredients for just about every packaged food, and the packaging too.

I was playing the game at the Food Security Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, which made the question rather poignant. When I was growing up in St. John’s, there was a saying, “You can’t starve a fisherman” – and I’m sure a DNA sample of the average Newfoundlander would show that we were all made of cod and potatoes. But since the industrialization of the fisheries and the destruction of the Northern Cod, hunger is a reality, Newfoundlanders rely on imported packaged food, and they are now as full of corn as the rest of us.

Happily, however, they are fighting back. The Assembly attracted more than 100 people from all over the province, including a sizeable contingent of Indigenous people (Inuit, Innu, Mi’kmaq) and a smattering of passionate young organic farmers. Behind the registration was a table overflowing with local produce, from berries to lettuce and tomatoes, brought from local farms. In keeping with this, the presentations at the conference focused, not on the crises of hunger and obesity, although they have been important in sparking the food security movement in the province, but rather on the elements of food security which are being built with an East Coast twist.

The young mayor of Branch, a village on the South Shore of Newfoundland, described the ‘Singing Kitchen’ – a community meal designed to bring together isolated seniors for food and a traditional sing. A young farmer argued that since food is medicine, the province should pay for the training of farmers who commit to local agriculture, just as it pays for the training of physicians who commit to two years of practicing in the outports. Perhaps the most powerful presentation was a simple description by a respected elder of the Innu Nation in Labrador of her annual trips “to the bush and country” and two-week annual canoe trips with local youth, to teach them how to live in, and on, the land. It was this vision which I think inspired the spirit of the gathering: to learn to think again in terms of subsistence, to celebrate and learn to use what it is that the land offers.

Newfoundland is not known as “The Rock” for nothing. The growing season is short and the soil is thin. However, Newfoundlanders also don’t give up easily, and they don’t like to be dependent. I was impressed by the willingness I saw at the Assembly to drop their differences and prejudices and work together to find ways to feed themselves. And sing about it.
   C.K.

For more information on the Newfoundland and Labrador Food Security Network, see  <www.foodsecuritynews.com>

Winner of the DNA Cup
Winner of the DNA Cup

 

#250: October 2007 TOC
Bingo! - Cathleen reports on the food security assembly in Newfoundland
R.I.P. Prairie Agriculture Co-Ops - latest merger clearly ends the farmer-led vision
Minister Supports Organics - Saskatchewan government looks favourably on organics
Persistent Bacterium - new research shows bacterium can transfer into other genomes
"We have no clue..." - Dow spokesperson is unusually candid
Energy and Synthetic Fuels - relating energy policy to other policy areas:
    * Synthetic fuels from slaughterhouse waste
    * Agrofuels not climate-friendly
    * A way to sell more
    * Rising food prices, inflation
Cargill update: (see also 'Cargill Profile')
    * Record 'earnings' - revenues for the last fiscal year were $88.3 billion
    * Kitchen Solutions (egg and breakfast products division)
    * Biodegradable packaging - an agreement with Teijin (Japan)
    * Cargill Canada - the grain trade
Healthy information policy - Sweden gives out information to public!
Roundup Ready diplomat - US ambassador pushes Afghanistan to spray poppies
What does 'Natural' mean? - we look at ice cream and what it's made of, including fish genes
    * Technical Background from ISIS

 

 

 

Issue 251: November 2007

Home on the Range

 

In cowboy culture, cattle ranchers are “real men”, while shepherds are ... well, not really. So I couldn’t resist a wry smile as I read an article in Western Producer (1/11/07) about cattle ranchers converting to sheep, even as one sheep promoter admitted, “it’s not easy being a sheep producer in cattle country”. The final paragraph quotes Merrell Dickie as saying, “There is a real need for consistent, year-round supply. All the big stores want lamb every day of the week” –  and every week of the year, I would add.

We built the Northumberland Lamb Marketing Co-op – ‘Northumberlamb” – on this understanding 25 years ago. In those days, the only ‘big store’ in the Maritimes was Sobey’s, and Frank Sobey himself supported our endeavor because he wanted fresh lamb in his stores year-round. It took us – a small group of dedicated farmers  – just two years to achieve that! So I’m glad to hear now that farmers in Alberta have finally gotten the message. Of course, one of the reasons they are able to hear the message is that cattle prices are lower than ever. A few years after taking up sheep on our own farm Cathleen and I sold our 30-cow herd during one of the rather frequent bottoms of the “beef cycle,” but we did not regret it, even though running sheep and cattle together would have been the better practice agronomically. We just could not manage it on our scattered land base. 

Dickie’s singing the praises of Sunterra Meats brings on another wry smile. Sunterra’s sheep business is based on a slaughterhouse/packing plant in Innisfail, Alberta. For a while back in the 80s Innisfail was a big pain in the ass to the livestock farmers because of the huge government subsidies that enabled the plant to be built and subsequently undercut prices. In Nova Scotia we were far enough away, and well enough established, to be unaffected, but the same could not be said for the rest of the country. I would still pick a bone with Sunterra because, according to its website, it guarantees its customers that all its lambs are grain-fed for a minimum of 60 days. Our goal was to maximize grass-fed lamb, with grain being fed primarily because the grass does not grow in a Maritime winter and we were supplying fresh lamb year round. Anyway, we wish Sunterra well, along with the cattle ranchers who have had the wool pulled off their eyes.

Unfortunately we cannot end this little story at this point. Next to the article on sheep was one on the sorry state of the cattle business. Prices are worse than ever, at least for the farmers and ranchers.  Now, the article concludes, the only optimism regarding cattle is that prices have been low before and they eventually bounce back. As the rancher quoted says, “The optimism will come from the fact that it has always corrected itself in the past.” Cargill, of course, as the major cattle processor in Canada, stands to benefit hugely from this naive optimism.  

cowboy
A 6-year-old's Vision of a Cowboy

A more sober, personal report on the cattle scene is provided by Paul Beingessner of Truax, Saskatchewan:

It was the accumulation of bills from a season of sowing and reaping that caused me to sell 25 of my calves last week. Those bills hanging over my head, coupled with a less than average hay crop, put me in something of a no-choice situation. It hasn’t rained appreciably since the end of June here, and dried up pastures and little-to-no regrowth on hay fields added to the need to pare down the number of head chewing on dead grass.

So I took a look at the stack of bills on my desk, eyed the cattle prices in the farm papers, and did a little calculating on how much I needed out of the herd right now. I figured twenty-five calves, topped up with a half dozen cull cows should at put a dent in the credit card balance. I did this, calculating what I figured was a realistic price for those calves. Not a good price mind you, but a realistic one. If they averaged $500 apiece I figured I could get by.

Of course the idea of $500 calves left me pretty glum. Even at the peak of the BSE crisis, I always managed to average better than that. What came out of the envelope from the auction mart left me more than a bit glum. It pretty much reduced me to an incoherent, blubbering mess.

For one thing, the weights were lower than I  expected. That was due to the dry, hot summer and pastures that went prematurely brown. But when weights are down, price per pound is usually up. After all, someone else has the opportunity to put more weight on the smaller calves. Wrong. The sorry truth was that 15 steer calves, averaging a post-shrink 510 pounds, brought an average of only $428. Even worse, ten heifer calves, averaging 490 pounds, brought a dismal $382. It was a far cry from the $500 of my pre-sale fantasy.

The deepest insult came with a 495 pound  red steer that sold for 57 cents a pound, bringing a whopping $274. I checked my records from previous years. A calf from the same cow in 2004, in the middle of the BSE crisis, was somewhat heavier at 530 pounds. However, it returned $538, nearly double this year’s take.

And don’t get me started about those six  cull cows. With an average weight of 1,343 pounds and a price of 18 cents a pound, they brought $243 each. I checked out the dressing percentages of cull cows on several internet sites. I figure those cows were each good for at least 450 pounds of lean hamburger. Of course, the packer likely ripped out the top loins and a few other choice bits, sold the livers, tongues, and other organs, and covered his processing costs just from the offal.

When I got the cheque from my calves, I was furious. The trouble was, I had no idea whom to be angry with. But give me a few months, and I might just figure it out. I wonder if it could be the folks who turn a $243 cow into $800 to $1,000 worth of food?                         – Paul Beingessner

 

#251: November 2007 TOC
Home on the Range: Brewster looks at the woes of cattle ranchers, with a story from Paul Beingessner
Of course, why didn't we think of that before? - a technological 'solution' for beef farmers
Workers Win Damages Against Pesticide Company - Nicaraguan farmworkers win a suit against Dow Food
Non-GM Premium Prices - soy, canola, and lamb
So why are farmers growing more GM crops? - farmer Colleen Ross explains the pressure to keep up appearances
Collusion - BASF sets the rules for field trials in the UK
The Editorial Process - Writing an article on good fats and bad fats
Chicken Soup ... - announcement of hens manipulated to produce pharmaceutical eggs
... With Rice - and announcement of GE rice to 'grow' pharmaceuticals
The "Tortilla Crisis" - the effects of subsidized corn production for ethanol on food prices
US Farm Subsidies for Mega-Corps - cotton supports go to Cargill
Classifying 'Consumers' - Nestle reveals its target demographics
Just in time for Holiday Giving! - Devlin Kuyek's new book, Good Crop/Bad Crop: Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada is a great read and available, hot off the press, from The Ram's Horn
 

 

 

2006

Table of Contents
January 2006 to December 2006

Following are the contents of earlier issues of the Ram's Horn. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

#242: December 2006 TOC
To Ottawa, with Skepticism
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network - national group is working on a Ban Terminator campaign and seed regulation changes
Ideology Trumps Business Sense - how else to explain the Harper government's moves to destroy the wheat marketing system?
        - Act One: Neuter the Canadian Grain Commission
        - Act Two, Scene One: Destroy the Canadian Wheat Board
        - Act Two, Scene Two: 'Modernize' (that is, water down) Seed Regulations
        - Act Two, Scene Three: Manipulate Wheat Board Election of Directors
        - Act Two, Scene Four: Fire Respected Executive
        Act Three remains to be written.
Seeds Are Big Business
Coming and Going: a snapshot of Cargill's operations
Numbers: compare deaths from H5N1 bird flu and the invasion of Iraq
Pepsi in India
Fairtrade Nestle

#241: September 2006 TOC
Changes (including address) - why the Kneens are moving to Ottawa
Reflections on Networking - Cathleen on the BC Food Systems Network
Biotech Chickens Come Home to Roost - Sadly, as predicted, biotech is causing a myriad of problems:

Organic communion - why didn't we think of that sooner?
Cuba's health care system - same results as the USA at a fraction of the cost
Tactics of Subversion ... and Control - Monsanto uses new tactics in South Africa, buys up more seed companies
Meaningless Choice - hundreds of varieties of wheat, canola
Obscenities - tidbits from the corporate food system
Change of Address effective October 14th

 

#240: August 2006 TOC
Ideological Individualism: "Choice" - Brewster dissects the call for an end to the Canadian Wheat Board
A bleak future for Canadian farmers - new program spends $550 million, doesn't help farmers
Fuel - or Food? - subsidies again
Ethanol is No Answer - biofuels cost more than they give, any way you look at it
Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan is worth reading
Pesticides & BT Cotton in China - pesticide use as increased with the biotech crops
Good News: Taro Patents Revoked in Hawai'i, No to GE Sorghum in South Africa
Our Mirror Reveals More than the Present: a statement from traditional Indigenous Doctors to the government of Ecuador
Food Not Bombs activity banned - several US cities get nervous as homeless are fed in public parks
Corporate Press 'Freedom' - AP's copyright statement leaves no room for sharing a newspaper
Back Issues of The Ram's Horn Wanted
by the Wisconsin Historical Society
Bridging Borders Towards Food Security Conference to be held in Vancouver, October 7-11 2006

#239: June 2006 TOC
Moving Forward - recognizing Western science as a cultural artefact
Drive or Eat? - Ethanol from food crops is a bad idea
Ag Policy for Whom? - Canada's new Minister of Agriculture is committed to 'technological innovation'
Allergic to Peanuts - Concern as peanut products infiltrate more of the food system
Gene Flow Confirmed - Pollen from a common turf grass can travel at least 13 miles
Stalled by Liability - Farmers growing GM in Germany are liable for contamination
Hawai'i: Papaya and Taro - Local people oppose GM taro on cultural as well as environmental grounds
Super-sized Cassava - US researchers have developed GM cassava ...
Non-GMO alternative - while Brazilian researchers have done the same without GM
"African Biofortified Sorghum" - is being developed with money from the Gates Foundation
Codex Alimentarius - Again - Although 40 countries have mandatory labelling of GM, the US has succeeded in blocking consensus at Codex fertilizer is hyped as the way to solve Africa's woes

#238: May 2006 TOC
Imported "Solutions" - fertilizer is hyped as the way to solve Africa's woes
Fuel or Food? - ADM and Cargill weigh in on biodiesel
Trains not Cars - Sweden fuels trains with methane
Lies, Perfidy and Whitewash - Monsanto tries to fix its image
No genetic engineering required - US scientists locate allergens in soy
Sour Soy Miracle - Brazilian farmers protest low prices
GE Alfalfa - USDA challenged in court
GE Assesment in the EU - claim that risk assessments are flawed
Registered GE Holsteins?
Traditional Livelihoods - realizing that African pastoralists are efficient
Outsourced Drug Trials - Indians used as guinea pigs
Polish GE seed ban - passed into law
Hot Revolving Door - USDA, seed trade, and Big Pharma
Children of the Sun - book review
Five characteristics of a profitable farmer, or, how to get rid of your neighbours

#237: March/April 2006 TOC
A Genuine Balance Sheet - Brewster looks at the promises and costs of biotech
Food democracy and Food sovereignty - how to tell the difference
Water fountains and bottled water - public access is disappearing
Pouring resources down the drain - the inefficiencies of bottling water
The Power of the People - the moratorium on Terminator Technology is upheld
"Promise" and "Noblesse Oblige" - some direct industry quotes
Suckling Pigs - later weaning is better for everyone
Recolonizing India - the India-US Knowledge Initiative raises fears
"Underwear risks" - Zenical helps lose weight but has nasty side-effects
Argentina /Monsanto - Monsanto tries to get the country to pay for
its RR products
Growth in organic food - organic production is up, major corporations are taking market share
Black market milk - the "right" to export - a US company is planning to sue Canada over supply management
Cargill Profile - a change in advertising for the corporation
US-AID - former Eli Lilly exec is hired
Corporate largesse - Syngenta donates to rural food banks

#236: February 2006 TOC
Corporate Welfare and the Public
Bechtel vs Bolivia - people finally get control of their water
Cargill Profile -
Collective Marketing the Only Way - despite Cargill and cronies' attack on the Wheat Board
Plummeting Farm Income - "not so much falls, as plummets"
Sad little onions - farmers compensated for crop damage by Roundup spray drift
Stalled by liability - GE planting unlikely as farmers are liable
ISAAA - a front group for biotech propaganda
Ethics in Action - Maine seed company refuses to stock Monsanto/Seminis products
Deceit .. and Cynicism - Monsanto's 'reduced prices' and 'charity' in Africa
A Sea Change at Guelph - ecological advocate is appointed as head of Plant Agriculture

#235: January 2006 TOC
Energy and Oil Palms: an analysis of the "Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil"
Destruction of GM crops was justified - French court recognizes "clear and present danger" of GM
Contaminated Charity - Monsanto gives hybrid corn to the poor
Tadpoles beware - Roundup kills tadpoles as well as frogs
The Gospel according to CropLife - an example of the mentality of the agrotoxin industry
The Cargill File - update on Cargill activities (see The Cargill Profile page under Resources)
More than you really wanted to know - About the Farm Crisis, a new publication from the National Farmers Union
More than you really wanted to know - About Oligopoly, a new publication from ETC Group
The Costs of Consolidation - in the retail sector
Looking after your health, sort of - Kellogg will use low-linoleic acid GM soybeans to eliminate trans-fats; Pepsi  and McCain's are growing and selling potatoes in China

 

2005

Table of Contents

Following are the contents of earlier issues of the Ram's Horn. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please subscribe!

#234: November-December 2005 TOC
Lightning Strikes -- Brewster suddenly realizes how USAID is clearing the way for US power in Venezuela as in Africa
People's Victory in Switzerland --
Florianne Koechlin reports on the Swiss referendum for a moratorium on GMOs
PEI decides against a ban on GMOs
Terminate Terminator --
the real scoop from Pat Mooney; and a postcard campaign to the Federal Government
Feathers of Mass Destruction --
the connection between Avian Flu and intensive poultry rearing
Pork Concentrate -- Get Bigger, Get Subsidies
Soybeans and Guns in Rural Paraguay --
Kregg Heatherington reports on the sobering situation in the pampas of Latin America
Hunger Count --
Canada's food banks issue a new report showing hunger is on the rise

#233: October 2005 TOC
Food Secure Canada
The Giant Made Visible
Argentina and soja (soy) -
statistics on production
Cargill Argentina -
a thumbnail history
Herbicide-Resistant Weeds -
Horseweed and Pigweed have both been found to resist glyphosate
'Co-existence' impossible -
GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to 15 years later
Small Scale Producers -
a helpful conference statement
Priceless? Not any more -
selling breastmilk
Fair Trade Nestle? -
the food and drink giant will now sell one line of Fair Trade coffee
We Don't Need Genetically Modified Foods -
a statement from Ghana
Canada has changed the rules on food aid -
now 50% can be purchased locally

#232: August/September 2005 TOC
The Right to Food
The Cargill Column:
ongoing coverage of one of the world's leading corporations:
* $71.1 billion and growing
* How it grows
* If it can be turned into a commodity, Cargill will market it
Niger:
Starving in the Midst of Plenty - an article from the Guardian Weekly
Does inequality really matter?
- from a review by Polly Toynbee of a book by Richard Wilkinson, pointing out that it is social equity which makes populations healthy
Court Case to Proceed -
the Saskatchewan farmers may pursue their class action suit against biotech giants contaminating their crops
A different view of the world:
Bold New Markets - how to do well by doing good; Drugs are the Answer - anti-obesity drugs hailed as the answer to childhood obesity
"Modern, Improved Maize" and Diabetes -
research shows changes in the ancient corn varieties have reduced anti-oxidants
New corn is a breed apart -
fighting back against genetic contamination by breeding corn which blocks external pollination
Monsanto Watch: Patenting pigs -
in a move which left even critics breathless, Monsanto has moved to patent the processes of breeding pigs; Charity - Monsanto Malawi donates $1 million to the World Food Programme; Ethics Oversight - shareholders call for an independent ethics committee for the corporation
A Note on Copyright -
our wording has been changed to make it clear that we do not claim copyright 'protection' for the Ram's Horn.

#231: July 2005 TOC
The Centre Calls the Shots
Biofuel:
what is the real cost-benefit?
The Myth of Development:
funding from international financial institutions pretends that everyone can live like the wealthy Northerners
Organic Soy and Corn Beat Conventional:
a new study proves organics better, especially in drought
PBR Legislation in Cold Storage:
no new seed law in Canada -- for now
Food Sovereignty:
local production is what will feed the world
Dow-Cargill partnership crumbles

#230: June 2005 TOC
Contradictions & Irrationalities
Are Plants Intelligent? - Florianne Koechlin reports from Switzerland on new research
GM Contamination Updates - compiled by Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK
I Wonder Why? - Wal-Mart's quarterly fiscal results are poor
Meat ... and Potatoes - Canadian cattlemen realize they are too dependent on US; potato growers seek supply management of a sort
Update on EU ban on import of hormone-beef
Mastitis is a dead duck - why, because of a genetically-engineered cow, of course
Daycare protects against leukaemia - early exposure to infections
strengthens the immune system
Diet may hold key to disruption - ADHD etc. can be addressed by correct food
The Beehive Design Collective - introducing an exciting group concocting social change through public art
Indian State Uproots Monsanto - Andhra Pradesh government is congratulated by grassroots activists

#229: April/May 2005 TOC
"Sustainable Soy" - an unholy alliance of transnational agribusiness and transnational environmentalism pushes GM soy in Argentina
In Memoriam - a celebration of the life of Cathleen's mother, Anna M. Rosenberg
Cargill updates: Fertiliser and Beef
Saskatchewan Organic Farmers lose - for now: the farmers will appeal a negative ruling on their class action
Life Giving Agriculture - Brewster reports on a global forum in Korea
Confusion - the state of GE regulation in Europe is, actually, confused
Statistics of Interest
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park - Roundup is found to kill frogs
Louse-ridden farms infect wild fish - farmed salmon in BC threaten the wild stocks
University biotech critic reinstated, given tenure - Ignacio Chapela returns to the University of California, Berkeley

#228: March 2005 TOC
Avoiding Risk: the CFIA avoids precaution in meat processing
Time to blow the whistle on the CFIA: BSE; Avian Flu; Terminator Technology; Slaughterhouse Regulation
Ripe for Attack: US businessmen recognize the vulnerability of integrated food system
Chiquita McDonald? Chiquita buys Fresh Express, sells salad and fruit to McD
Corporate Profile: Unilever -- some background on the global food giant
The retail food police: moratorium is now lifted, stores can label GE food
Potatoes: Not an amusing diversion - PEI farmers are asked to dump potatoes; Organic option - blight resistant varieties developed in Europe; Why vaccination by potato got chopped
Hungry Pigs: a proponent of factory farming changes heart
More trade, more toxins: Chilean farm workers suffer from export crop production
Globalization tidbits
Stop changes to Plant Breeders Rights! - a letter to her MP from a Nova Scotia subscriber

#227: January - February 2005
Never, No, Never Look Upstream: Immune systems, Avian Flu and natural disasters
Capital Rules: The Sask Wheat Pool slips into its grave
Bring Back the Bison: grassland beef as a strategy to reduce obesity
"Cinnamon Toast" - the fine points of "Intellectual Property": Kellogg sues General Mills over language and labels
Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain: update
Monsanto and Cargill update

 

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Issue 227: January-February 2005

 Never, no never,

look upstream

Just who put all those chickens in one barn, all those cattle in one feedlot, all those fish in one aquaculture net-cage. . . ?

The one place we will not look for the cause of animal and human health problems: the factory! The CFIA, the Minister of Agriculture, Health Canada all tell us, ad nauseam, that we have the safest food system in the world and that Canada's food safety regime is “science-based” – yet actual facts seem to escape notice and consideration. For example, in the recent Avian Flu epidemic in the Fraser Valley of BC, the CFIA insisted on destroying more than 18,000 backyard birds of various species, even though with one exception the disease was confined to the factory farms. That one exception was a backyard flock which tested positive for the flu three days after a commercial farm located 400 metres away was depopulated, according to testimony from local experts to a Parliamentary agriculture committee. The committee was also told that the purpose of the CFIA's actions was political, not scientific: to re-open international trade as soon as possible for the mainstream poultry operations.

Like the Fraser Valley farmers, we suspect that the source and cause of animal (and human?) disease pandemics may well be the existence and continual expansion and intensification of livestock and poultry production and deconstruction systems. It would be nice to have policies based on real science rather than the unshakeable ideological and economic commitment of the Canadian government to the transnational corporations who are responsible for the problems.

“We have the safest food in the world.” But for goodness sake, cook your meat throroughly, and scrub your produce with detergent, and forget steak tartare! Children musntn't lick out the cookie bowl because it probably contains residues of uncooked eggs and therefore salmonella. The advisors remain silent on factory production of eggs and their inevitable salmonella. Rather, this so-called “science-based” food safety regime seems determined to wipe out our immune systems by “protecting” us from all the bacteria that form an integral part of our environment and that nurture our immune systems. We are, apparently, supposed to grow to resemble the hybrid monoculture corn that has no immune system and is therefore totally dependent on “crop protection agents” – i.e., agrotoxins – to protect it from the environment and synthetic fertilizers for food because the ground they are supposed to be growing in has been rendered sterile in the name of productivity. The transnational “food” companies will feed us with sterile food just as they do the hybrid corn . . . and the soybeans, and the canola. . . .

Dare we say that BSE is a natural outcome of an unnatural system and that it will be with us until we change the system? And there will be others.

Deborah Mackenzie, writing in New Scientist , comments:

“For years we have forced countless chickens to live short, miserable lives in huge, crammed hen houses in the name of intensive agriculture. In 2004, they started to wreak their revenge.

“Somewhere in east Asia these birds have been breeding a flu virus that, according to the World Health Organization, could eventually kill millions of people. Called H5N1, it has been causing regular, if unreported, outbreaks in poultry in China for years, as intensive poultry production has skyrocketed. This year the virus spread beyond China's borders, as far afield as Indonesia, forcing China at last to admit to its existence. It will take years to eradicate. And there is now so much of the virus about that the chances are some of it, somewhere, will acquire a taste for humans.

“The WHO says H5N1 could potentially cause a human pandemic that claims 100 million lives, but this is little more than an educated guess. . . To cause a pandemic, H5N1 will have to learn how to spread between people, and we don't know if that will make it more or less deadly. But so far, we know it has killed not 5 per cent but 70 per cent of its victims.

“So experts are feverishly working to create a vaccine and governments are beginning to stockpile antiviral drugs. But we can't start production of a vaccine until we know exactly what any pandemic virus looks like. And there aren't many antiviral drugs to go around. So we wait and hope.” – NS, 25/12/04

Surely a rethinking of the system that foments such diseases would be more effective than “wait and hope”?

 

#227: January - February 2005 TOC
Never, No, Never Look Upstream: Immune systems, Avian Flu and natural disasters
Capital Rules: The Sask Wheat Pool slips into its grave
Bring Back the Bison: grassland beef as a strategy to reduce obesity
"Cinnamon Toast" - the fine points of "Intellectual Property":Kellogg sues General Mills over language and labels
Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain: update

 

Issue 228: March 2005

 Avoiding Risk

Which is better, to avoid risk, or to set up a system which induces risk and then try to manage it? The British Columbia government's new Regulation for livestock slaughter in the province is an excellent example of the problems inherent in the ‘risk management' approach.

The new Regulation is described as ‘outcomes-based', the outcomes being population health and a viable, sustainable agriculture. However, to achieve such outcomes a livestock slaughter regime must be based in practices which avoid health risk, such as

  • small numbers of animals being processed at a time (hands-on operations)
  • minimal trucking distances for animals (minimal stress on animals – and farmers – and reduced stress-induced disease and filth)
  • limited market scope – i.e. the meat is sold within the region (easy to trace)

Think of this as an exercise in the precautionary principle. The health of the system is based on healthy livestock, the avoidance of stress, and direct relationships between producer, processor, and consumer.

The clear prejudice of the CFIA and BC Centres for Disease Control towards large-scale, industrial, paper-trail, export-oriented models, on the other hand, is reflected in their rigid requirements for abattoir construction and their touching faith in the power of stainless steel. The cost of upgrading to these requirements has already caused a number of local small abattoirs in BC to close (a process described by one farmer as “a train wreck in slow motion”.) By September 2006, when the regulation will be fully in force, we will see:

  • the closure of most if not all currently operating fixed and mobile slaughter facilities
  • the exit of many small and specialty livestock producers from production
  • the consequent decline of small-scale, diversified agriculture in BC – including fruit and vegetable production on mixed farms
  • the consequent decline of rural communities
  • the loss of healthy local food production capacity
  • reduction in population health as we become increasingly reliant on imported produce at a cost determined by outside forces
  • increased risk in the meat business related to long-distance trucking and large-scale processing, paper trails etc. notwithstanding

In other words, the exact opposite of the stated outcomes of the Regulation.

Time to blow the whistle on the CFIA

It is time to label the CFIA – the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – for what it is: corrupt and incompetent. The CFIA came into being April 1, 1997, and it has been a bad – and costly – joke ever since. It was set up to make it appear as a credible, independent agency of the Canadian Government, to “consolidate inspection, and animal and plant health services of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada” reporting to the Minister of Agriculture. Its prime objectives were announced to be “consumer protection and the promotion of Canadian trade and commerce”. At the time it appeared to be little more than a re-labelling of the Biotechnology Strategies Coordination Office of Agriculture Canada, as its staff were the same people at the same desks with the same phone numbers.

The Government has never been apologetic about the dual – and contradictory – mandates of the CFIA even though this dual mandate has destroyed the credibility of the organization. Of more concern to the government, it would seem, are the benefits that accrue to its corporate cronies, at public expense, in the name of “food safety” and trade.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in the shameless and relentless promotion of genetic engineering by the CFIA. From the day of its establishment, the CFIA has functioned as a lobby for Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry. Its contempt for the public has been most explicitly expressed in its adamant refusal to require the labelling of GE food. Despite loud claims that all of its work is “science-based,” the CFIA's procedures for approving genetically engineered crops and foods are based on the information it receives from the petitioners, that is, Monsanto et.al. But it could hardly be otherwise – and was not intended to be otherwise – when the government closed the laboratories and got rid of the scientists that might actually have tested, and not just ‘assessed,' the GE crops offered for approval.

To avoid public and independent scientific scrutiny, the CFIA routinely declares all information it receives from its ‘clients' as proprietary, or confidential business information. Translated, this means, “It's none of your business.” We are simply supposed to trust the CFIA, even though all the evidence suggests that it acts solely in the interest of its corporate clients, not the public interest. That the companies whose products have been approved – primarily Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer – are not remotely Canadian makes it clear that it is trade and commerce per sethat the CFIA is to promote, regardless of the consequences for Canadians or the environment.

Consider recent events:

The first case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, so called because it causes sponge-like lesions in the brain) was found in a beef cow in Alberta in May 2003. Prior to that, a different form of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), was found in Canadian game-farm elk in 1996 and confirmed in wild deer in 2001. The CFIA has insisted that it is not possible for CWD to pass from wild animals to cattle. In 2002 the CFIA declared that CWD had been eradicated in farmed elk, though there is no empirical basis for such a claim.

When BSE was identified in the Alberta cow, the US shut off the flow of live cattle from Canada. (The previous year, Canada exported 1.6 million head of cattle for slaughter in the USA.) Closing of the border has had a devastating effect on Canadian cattle prices and Canadian farmers, while the major beef slaughtering plants – Cargill and Tyson, both in Alberta and both US-owned – appear to have benefitted handsomely from the depressed prices for slaughter animals while retail prices did not plummet. Since then Canadian cattle producers have been pleading with the CFIA to introduce mandatory testing of all slaughter animals for BSE to ensure that no BSE gets into the food system (for humans or livestock) but the CFIA has not only refused, but has not allowed such testing even by those smaller slaughterhouses that wish to introduce it. Thus it appears that the CFIA is far more interested in the “trade and commerce” of Cargill and Tyson than in the welfare of Canadian farmers or the health of Canadian meat eaters.

The presence of BSE in Canadian cattle has been attributed to the recycling of animal protein in animal feed – feeding cows to cows – which transmits a prion which is believed to be the causal agent. More remains unknown than known about the ways of these disease-causing ‘prions', but it would seem to be prudent, to say the least, to institute an immediate ban on including blood and bone meal in any animal feed. This did not happen. The Government implemented a feed ban in 1997 prohibiting the feeding of ruminant animals with “most mammalian proteins.” However, it did not prohibit the manufacturing of such feed for other classes of livestock and pets. The assumption obviously was that there would never be a mix-up in the feed, whether in the feed mill or on the farm. This assumption could be said to be naive at best.

Not until December 2004 did the CFIA move to prohibit the use of specified risk material or SRM (that is, material rendered from cattle parts such as brains and spinal cord, known to be the most active sites of BSE) in all animal feeds, including pet food.

Either the CFIA cares more about the health of transnational agribusiness and trade than about Canada's farm animals and food sources or it is simply incompetent and out of touch with reality.

The Avian Flu outbreak in British Columbia's Fraser Valley in 2004 led to the killing of 19 million chickens and related poultry under orders from the CFIA. About 1.2 million of these birds tested positive for the H7N3 virus and were composted, incinerated or landfilled; the rest of the birds went to market. Among the birds eliminated were those of specialty poultry (rare breeds and Certified Organic) and ‘backyard' flocks, that is, small flocks raised for home consumption. Now their owners are calling for an independent inquiry to probe the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's “mismanagement” of the avian flu outbreak.

A Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture that held hearings in January into the whole sad affair learned that only one backyard flock was infected with the avian flu, rather than 12, as the CFIA had stated. Dr. Barbara Fisher, a backyard flock owner in Abbotsford, testified that the CFIA unnecessarily killed more than 18,000 backyard birds, of various species, even though other countries dealing with an avian flu outbreak offered alternatives, such as isolation, to backyard bird owners. Fisher observed that the one backyard flock that was infected tested positive for the flu three days after a commercial farm located 400 metres away was depopulated.

Ken Falk, spokesman for the Specialty Bird producers told the Committee “politics appeared to drive disease management strategies rather than basing decisions on science” – the purpose being to re-open international trade as soon as possible for the four industrial ‘feather' producer groups (chicken, egg layers, broiler hatching and turkeys). He said the CFIA ran rough-shod over the specialty bird producers and backyard flock owners and didn't care if small businesses, such as his, survived or died. “I quote one high-ranking CFIA official who said to me: ‘I am well aware of your business issues Mr. Falk and they are of no concern to me.'” – BC Newspaper Group 31/1/05

Bangkok, February 2005: A striking example of the CFIA doing the dirty work for its corporate clients occurred in Bangkok at a meeting of “ SBSTTA 10” (a scientific advisory body to the Convention on Biological Diversity) in February. According to a confidential document leaked to ETC Group, the Canadian delegation was instructed to overturn an international moratorium on genetic seed sterilisation technology (known universally as Terminator), and, even worse, to “block consensus” on any other option. Thankfully, ETC Group reported, disaster was averted due to key interventions by the governments of Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru and Liberia on behalf of the African Group.

According to the leaked instructions to Canadian negotiators, Canada was to insist that governments accept the field testing and commercialization of Terminator varieties (referred to as GURTS – Genetic Use Restriction Technologies). As a result of the leaked documents being made public, Pat Mooney reports, during the plenary debate Canada took a low-key role and did not call for field trials or commercialization and did not speak out against the moratorium other than to suggest that national governments might make independent decisions and, again, to suggest that national capacity-building might be useful to understand Terminator technologies. The Canadian delegation apparently made no attempt to deny the authenticity of the leaked report. Mooney added,

“We have the distinct impression that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is taking the lead within the Canadian delegation on this issue.” – ETC Group report 9/2/05

The comment of Stephen Yarrow, national manager of the Plant Biosafety Office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, confirms this: “There's no scientific reason why GURTs should be banned before we've been able to evaluate them in field trials. The Canadian government supports farmers and seed saving. However GURTs are a whole class of new technologies that offer a number of potential advantages.” – Stephen Leahy, IPS news, 11/2/05

Advantages to Monsanto and Syngenta, obviously, but certainly not to, the Canadian public, the Third World, or farmers anywhere.

The final item in this brief litany of deceit has to do with the shifting sands of regulation in the meat industry and the even larger issue of the CFIA seeking to modernize and harmonize its regulation and integrate its information systems with those of the paranoid US and its Patriot Act.

This is the intent of Bill C-27, the CFIA Enforcement Act on “smart regulation”. If passed, Bill C-27 will give the CFIA new powers to make regulations that will:

  • lock us into the US regulatory system,
  • increase privatization of the regulatory system,
  • cripple our ability to protect our food system and diversify our trading relationships,
  • make it even harder for the family farm and the small food processor to survive.

For more information and how to take action, seewww.beyondfactoryfarming.org/cgi-bin/index.pl

As the example of the new provincial Regulation in BC shows, the obvious intent of the CFIA's moves to increase “food safety” in the slaughtering and processing meat in Canada is to drive all the small local slaughter facilities (including mobile abattoirs) out of business by requiring them to meet the standards expected of factories slaughtering thousands of animal a day for export (Cargill, Tyson, Maple Leaf). The fact that it is on the factory farms and in the processing factories that all the disease problems arise seems to be irrelevant. In all the discussion there is never any consideration of where the pathogens come from and why. As a consequence, the countryside is to be tidied up and all meat production delivered into the hands of transnational agribusiness.

If the CFIA were actually concerned about public health, it would put real regulations in place that would govern line speeds, worker safety, cleanliness and plant size. It would also outlaw the trucking of live animals long distances (except for valuable breeding stock) on the grounds of cruelty to animals and food safety (stress-induced disease). At the same time, it would find ways to provide inspection services to small local slaughterhouses, including mobile plants, to serve diversified small scale agriculture. Of course this would destroy the meat packing industry as it is, but that would serve the public interest. It would help to put control of the food system back in the hands of farmers and communities, where it should be.

It is not reasonable, however, to expect the CFIA to perform such a radical operation on itself. Therefore, the first step would be the dismantling of the CFIA and the creation of an independent food regulatory agency responsible not to Transnational Agribusiness and Market ideology but to Parliament and the Canadian public.

 

#228: March 2005 TOC
Avoiding Risk:the CFIA avoids precaution in meat processing
Time to blow the whistle on the CFIA: BSE; Avian Flu; Terminator
Technology; Slaughterhouse Regulation
Ripe for Attack: US businessmen recognize the vulnerability of integrated food system
Chiquita McDonald? Chiquita buys Fresh Express, sells salad and fruit to McD
Corporate Profile: Unilever -- some background on the global food giant
The retail food police: moratorium is now lifted, stores can label GE food
Potatoes: Not an amusing diversion - PEI farmers are asked to dump potatoes; Organic option - blight resistant varieties developed in Europe; Why vaccination by potato got chopped
Hungry Pigs: a proponent of factory farming changes heart
More trade, more toxins: Chilean farm workers suffer from export crop production
Globalization tidbits

 

Issue 229: April/May 2005

 Sustainable Soy

Argentina has become the world's second largest producer and exporter of soy (after the USA) . Most of it is genetically engineered Roundup Ready soy acquired without payment of technology use fees or royalties to Monsanto. Our view is that this was deliberately encouraged by Monsanto as a major tactic in its drive to contaminate the global food system with its transgenic crops. Now Monsanto is trying to find a way to collect the royalties it chose to forgo in order to get its RR soy widely grown in Argentina (and Brazil).

“Sustainable Soy” is the rallying cry of a new partnership of transnational agribusiness and transnational environmentalism in South America. On the transnational agribusiness side one finds Unilever, Cargill, DuPont and others, while on the transnational environmentalism side, the World Wide Fund for Nature (known as World Wildlife Fund in N. America), with an intimate crossover in the person of Hector Laurence, the head of the Fundació n Vida Silvestre (FVSA) in Argentina, president of the Argentine Association of Agrobusinesses and vice president of Pioneer Overseas Corp, owned by DuPont.

In March, this unholy alliance organized a Roundtable on Sustainable Soy , with an organizing committee consisting of representatives from:

  • World Conservation Union
  • Coop Switzerland.
  • Cordaid (NL), a Catholic relief and development organization
  • Fetraf-Sul/CUT (BR), Workers Federation in Family Agriculture
  • Grupo André Maggi (BR), Brazil's largest soy producer based in the area of Mato Grosso.
  • Unilever (NL)
  • World Wide Fund for Nature

The Roundtable on Sustainable Soy lists the following four objectives:

  • To reach consensus among critical stakeholders.
  • To develop and promote criteria for sustainable soy production.
  • To promote and replicate pilot projects on sustainable soy.
  • To monitor the status of soy production in terms of sustainability.

[ see www.sustainablesoy.org ]

More common definitions notwithstanding, the term “sustainable” or “sustainability” appears to refer merely to the continued production of soy for domestic consumption and export, primarily for livestock feed in Europe and other wealthy markets no longer able to feed themselves.

To counter this nefarious campaign, MOCASE (Via Campesina Argentina) and the Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) organized a counter conference which produced the following statement, signed by Via Campesina Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, GRR Argentina, Coordinadora Antitransgenicos del Uruguay and others:

We resolve:

To struggle and mobilise, jointly with other movements and organisations, against the present model of development, agro exports and the proliferation of transgenic crops, which tragically affect the peoples of South America, which attack the environment and peasant societies through monocultures;

To denounce the false concept of sustainable soya mono crops, officially promoted at the First Round Table Conference on Sustainable Soy, held at Foz do Iguaz ú , in the interests of the North and of the agribusinesses, with the scandalous support of some large national and international NGOs;

To assert that sustainability and monoculture are fundamentally irreconcilable, as are the interests of peasant societies and agribusiness;

To denounce the relationship between agro businesses and hydro businesses, that entrenches the privatisation of water supplies and destroys the aquifers of Latin America;

To defend water as a universal right and a common good, in opposition to the logic of transitional corporations, who view it as a mere commodity;

To accuse the agribusinesses as responsible for the mercantilisation of life and of land;

To denounce the governments for a failure to pursue policies of agrarian reform;

To defend the cultures, territories and traditional economies of indigenous peoples and peasants, while building unity with urban movements.

To encourage and disseminate the agro ecological experience of peasant societies, not merely as alternative modes of cultivation, production and consumption, but as a radical, alternative vision of life and the world, transforming the relationship between nature and human beings.

– Final Document of the Iguaz ú Counter Conference on the Impacts of Soya and Monocultures, San Miguel de Iguaz ú , Brazil, 16-18/05/05.

[See RH #218, Feb 2004, pp 1-4, RH 224, Sept/Oct 2004 p.7, for background ]

The latest chapter in this story is that Cargill (as a major soy processor and exporter in Argentina) joined the “Sustainable Soy” team as a processor and marketer of organic soy which would bear the WWF Panda seal of approval in the European market. Environmental NGOs would contribute their support, presumably for a sliver of financial support for their conservation work, by promoting Cargill as an environmentally responsible corporate citizen.

The ‘sustainably' produced monoculture soy, in combination with beef feedlots, is to be certified and sold as organic in the high-price European market. But should monoculture soy, even grown according to organic standards, qualify for an ‘organic' label when it contributes to the destruction of small farms and forests and seeks to replace the traditional diet with an alien and nutritionally questionable soy-based diet?

To be certified organic by any recognized standard, of course, requires that the land be free of agro-toxins, which means that the land cannot have been used in ‘conventional' soy production for at least 3 years. It is unlikely that the ‘sustainable soy' gang will want to wait that long, which means that uncontaminated land will have to be brought into production. Does that mean cleared forest land and the farms of small traditional farmers? Soy production in Argentina seems simply to go from bad to worse. An organic label will not sanctify evil practices!

In March, the Gaia Foundation published a case study on the impact of genetically engineered soya which argues that agriculture based on soya monocultures can never be sustainable.

“The ‘sustainable soya' proposal to rotate soya monocultures with cattle production merely implies alternating extensive monocultures with intensive livestock production, both heavily mechanised and reliant on chemicals. Both occupy vast stretches of land, displacing other crops, whilst using minimal labour.

“Industry's main obligation is to maximise profits which means seeking immediate returns. It understands sustainability merely as the way to achieve sustained commercial benefits.

“Soya produced on a mass scale in countries where it is not part of the food culture but is simply a commodity for export, upsets the social, cultural, ecological, political and economic balance. It destroys the human rights of peasant and indigenous communities as well as the knowledge and practice of diverse farming and food production.” www.gaiafoundation.org

 

#229: April/May 2005 TOC
"Sustainable Soy" - an unholy alliance of transnational agribusiness and transnational environmentalism pushes GM soy in Argentina
In Memoriam - a celebration of the life of Cathleen's mother, Anna M. Rosenberg
Cargill updates: Fertiliser and Beef
Saskatchewan Organic Farmers lose - for now: the farmers will appeal a negative ruling on their class action
Life Giving Agriculture - Brewster reports on a global forum in Korea
Confusion - the state of GE regulation in Europe is, actually, confused
Statistics of Interest
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park - Roundup is found to kill frogs
Louse-ridden farms infect wild fish - farmed salmon in BC threaten the wild stocks

 

Issue 230: June 2005

 Contradictions & Irrationalities

“Predictions of a bumper world harvest in coming decades have been put on hold because climate change is set to do much worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest forecasts have so far predicted.”

This comment, in a short report in New Scientist (30/4/05) , made me realize that, among its overweening claims to solve world hunger, I have never heard the biotech industry promising that g.e. crops (GMOs) would make up for climate change.

What would affect climate change, of course, is a massive reduction in our energy consumption. We could start with eating closer to home. This would do more to address the problem of hunger than genetically engineered crops, and would not require the massive public subsidies the biotech industry enjoys. We could then take the resources currently lavished on the operation of the food-hauling industry (trucks, ships, planes) and apply them to public transportation.

Logic notwithstanding, actual reduction in energy consumption is seldom mentioned in polite company. Most of the attention goes to alternative fuels to keep the destructive machine going at the same pace – or faster – while the peace of the summer lake is shattered by the shrill whine of ‘personal watercraft' and our roads (even urban streets) are clogged with incredibly inefficient four-wheel drive vehicles of all sorts. Ethanol and biodiesel are the fashionable alternative vehicle fuels, though the public subsidies required to make ethanol (produced from corn or soybeans) the least bit economically attractive are seldom mentioned.

The contradictions are rife, and were highlighted for us recently by a visit to the farm (well, the organic brewery, really) by two guys from Winnipeg who came to pick up some good beer. They were travelling in a diesel Toyota pick-up powered by used cooking oil. Fast food takes on a whole new meaning! except that Steve commented that some used cooking oil is so foul that they cannot use it. And to think this was used to cook your food – well, somebody's.

Because there are no service stations to serve such conservative practices, the guys have to carry a bunch of 4-gallon containers in the back of the truck that they fill up when they can. A filtering system for the cooking oil has been installed in a box in a back corner of the truck. It is the most crucial and expensive part of the system (for the filter elements). The truck can be converted back to regular diesel with a turn of a tap, so to speak.

Ethanol production in the US is subsidized by the US Government at 17cents per litre, the subsidy going to the oil companies that blend it with their gasoline, not to the farmers growing the corn the ethanol is refined from. Canada offers only a 10cent per litre subsidy in the form of an exemption on the federal fuel excise tax, but that again benefits the refiners because the tax break is offered on cheap ethanol imported from the US or Brazil (produced from sugar cane). 
– see: WP, 9/6/05

What's more, the Canadian government's $100 million Ethanol Expansion Program provides up-front money to companies such as Husky Oil to build or expand ethanol refining capacity. Just who owns Husky – and receives the public's money – is an interesting question. Husky has been, and may now be, owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, but there are reports that the Chinese government is in talks to buy the energy giant. 
– See: orwelltoday.com/chinahuskyoil.shtml

Canola has been a darling of prairie agriculture for several decades now, and the prime oilseed crop. However, it has been running into problems as a result of its dependence on the export market, and its more recent genetic manipulation and capture by Monsanto. Canola's promiscuous habit of spreading its manipulated genes all over the countryside have meant that virtually all Canadian canola is GMO, which has meant the loss of some overseas markets. This may indeed be the death of it if Japan, which has been a consistent buyer of half the crop, turns against it.

The new ‘solution' is to use canola as a feedstock for fuel production. It's going to have to compete, however, with US biodiesel produced from oilseeds such as canola and soy. Cargill, already the third-largest producer of ethanol in the US (Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the largest) is now going to build a soybean-processing facility in Iowa that will by able to turn out 37.5 million gallons of biodiesel a year, substantially more that the US used (30 million gallons) in 2004. It would seem reasonable that Cargill has its eye on Canada as a market. 
– Mpls. Star-Tribune, 9/6/05

Perhaps both industrial monoculture farming and the profligate transportation of everything (including ourselves) need to be radically reconsidered.

 

#230: June 2005 TOC
Contradictions & Irrationalities
Are Plants Intelligent? - Florianne Koechlin reports from Switzerland on new research
GM Contamination Updates - compiled by Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK
I Wonder Why? - Wal-Mart's quarterly fiscal results are poor
Meat ... and Potatoes - Canadian cattlemen realize they are too dependent on US; potato growers seek supply management of a sort
Update on EU ban on import of hormone-beef
Mastitis is a dead duck - why, because of a genetically-engineered cow, of course
Daycare protects against leukaemia - early exposure to infections
strengthens the immune system
Diet may hold key to disruption - ADHD etc. can be addressed by correct food
The Beehive Design Collective - introducing an exciting group concocting social change through public art

 

Issue 231: July 2005

 “The Centre calls the shots...”

While we may wonder at and despair over the weakness of Parliament, the confusing role played by senior civil servants – deputy ministers in particular – and the intimacy between senior politicians, civil servants and the corporate sector, we remain almost willfully short of understanding the real structure of political power in Canada. Maybe we just really want to believe we live in a representative democracy.

It is also highly unusual for the press in Canada to actually identify where power lies, by whom it is exercised, and to whose benefit. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise to see the headline “‘The Centre calls the shots so don't blame minister” on Barry Wilson's column in the July 7 th edition of Western Producer. (Western Producer is the major farm weekly of the Canadian prairies, founded in 1923 by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, but now owned by a non-farm business enterprise.) Wilson's been reporting from Ottawa for as long as I can remember and knows his way around.

“The Centre” is not a term frequently heard or read in the Canadian media or political discussions, although it is a term commonly used in the Indian media with reference to the power centre of the Indian government. (To see for yourself, go to www.flonnet.com where the complete text of this excellent bi-weekly magazine is available. Frontline puts every other English-language news magazine I know of to shame with its literacy, coverage and analysis.)

It is worth wondering why two former British colonies, Canada and India, have such different political cultures. In India, as expressed in Frontline, there is intense detailed discussion of personalities and policies, while in Canada we seem to allow the politics and realities of power in Ottawa to be hidden behind the facade of an extraordinarily weak Parliament. In turn, it is considered bad taste to demand of political candidates what policies they advocate. I recall, for example, when Brian Mulroney was campaigning in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, for his first seat in Parliament when we were farming there. We were told to shut up when we tried to ask questions about policy. The political game was to pick and vote for ”the winner” and enjoy the favours which would presumably follow. So we get media-concocted side shows while the cronyism, corruption and power games, however brutal and anti-democratic and destructive they may be, go unattended and unilluminated.

You won't find The Centre listed in a directory of either government or parliamentary offices. As Wilson describes it, The Centre refers to a combination of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Privy Council Office (PCO). The PMO is filled with appointed political advisors, often long-time business associates of the Prime Minister, while the PCO consists of trusted (and also appointed) senior civil servants, in particular, deputy ministers. The Centre both makes and manages policy decisions.


Calling the shots from centre ice

To illustrate the point about the power of The Centre, Wilson looks at the strange public behaviour of the current Minister of Agriculture, Andy Mitchell. It's a bit like looking behind the curtain to see who is pulling the puppet's strings, and it does not give one much confidence in the parliamentary process in Canada. Or is it just corruption (not a word we hear spoken with any frequency) that is spoiling the process?

One could equally well examine the behaviour of our neo-liberal provincial governments which, at least in British Columbia, are following the same script of concentrating all power in the office of the Premier, while frequently shuffled Cabinet ministers scramble to figure out how to preside over ministries which are high-handedly reconfigured with no consultation with the senior management or the government's own human relations staff, let alone the front-line civil servants or, heaven forbid, the public. The latest transfiguration in BC is the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, which has become the Ministry of Agriculture and Land and has (or is trying to) swallow some 600 more staff and a whole new set of responsibilities for the Land Commissions with, apparently, absolutely no forewarning. It only make sense if, in fact, they are not supposed to do anything.

“The PCO sits at the top of the federal civil service. Unlike the PMO, it is supposed to provide the government, primarily the Prime Minister, with non-partisan advice and support. People in the PCO are typically very sharp and determined and most have spent years working their way up the public service ladder. The PCO takes its cues from the PM and then manages the government. . . The PCO also, in the words of Donald Savoie (Governing from the Centre: Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics, Univ. of Toronto Press,1996), “supports the Prime Minister's power to recommend appointments by providing substantive policy and management advice on certain senior appointments, including the appointment of deputy ministers and heads of agencies.” This is a very important point to bear in mind, especially when it comes to Deputy Ministers. . .

“It is the PM, working with the PCO, that appoints the Deputy Ministers; the Cabinet Ministers have virtually no say. . . Through the Deputy Ministers, the PM and his advisors can keep a very tight reign on Cabinet Ministers. This chain of command makes the Deputy Ministers powerful instruments in the exercise of the PM's orders. . . The Cabinet Ministers have lost out as power has shifted to the PCO and the Deputy Ministers. . . The voices of elected officials are excluded. The voices of self-serving non-elected officials set public policy.” – Devlin Kuyek, The Real Board of Directors , The Ram's Horn, 2002, pp.43-46 (This study is available in PDF at www.ramshorn.ca )

We may not like Devlin Kuyek's conclusions, but until we are prepared to be inquisitive, rude and demanding of our elected “representatives,” The Centre will continue to govern as its corporate bosses think is in their best interests, privatization will march ‘ahead' and the public subsidies will continue to go to the wealthy and powerful.  BK

 

#231: July 2005 TOC
The Centre Calls the Shots 
Biofuel:
 what is the real cost-benefit? 
The Myth of Development:
 funding from international financial institutions pretends that everyone can live like the wealthy Northerners 
Organic Soy and Corn Beat Conventional:
 a new study proves organics better, especially in drought 
PBR Legislation in Cold Storage:
 no new seed law in Canada -- for now 
Food Sovereignty:
 local production is what will feed the world 
Dow-Cargill partnership crumbles

 

Issue 232: August/September 2005

 The Right to Food

How can we usefully describe the movement of people around the world to ensure that people have the means to feed themselves in a satisfactory and sustainable manner? The term ‘food security' is problematic. Since security is generally understood as protection against external threats and powers, food security can mean being assured of an adequate food supply for your own survival, whether ‘your own' is you individually or as a family or community. By itself, however, the term food security does not necessarily mean enough food for everyone. On the contrary, it implies that there is not enough for everyone, and therefore I, or we, have to secure enough for ourselves over against the needs of others.

La Via Campesina, along with other peasant and aboriginal groups, uses the term food sovereignty (see the last issue of The Ram's Horn). The clearly political implications of the word sovereignty have, however, made it problematic for NGOs (non-government organizations) working in international fora such as the United Nations/FAO. Building on a long history in the area of human rights, they propose that the issue be addressed through the right to food.But this language carries its own pitfalls.

In the secular tradition of the Enlightenment, a right , whether human or property, is a license, allowance, exception or privilege granted by a secular power. The doctrine itself arose out of the religious doctrine of the ‘divine right of kings,' but when the religious authority claimed by or attributed to the king and the church were secularized by the Enlightenment, the privilege of granting rights fell to the state. The secular state then became the source and guarantor of both human and property rights, even though, theoretically, the state is simply recognizing natural rights.

In using the language of human rights to address the state, however, there is an implicit recognition of the authority, if not legitimacy, of the state, which is the only power in a position to give substance to rights. Furthermore, while natural rights may be formally recognized by the society and even the state on the basis of a higher moral authority of some sort, functionally they remain to be implemented by the state. (Meanwhile, of course, people in communities around the world continue to feed the hungry with no reference to state or other authority.)

“The human right to adequate food is a legal right which addresses head-on the moral, political and social issues relating to food poverty and food insecurity in Canada at the present time. . . Food insecurity for many Canadians raises issues of human rights and distributive justice culminating in state action and policies or programs implemented through legislation .” – (Right to Food Case Study: Canada, Graham Riches, 2004, emphasis added)


"Please, sir, I want some more" - Oliver Twist

Behind the state, under the current neoliberal regime of capital-and-market, stands the corporation. Assuming the prerogatives of royalty, the corporation utilizes the state as its proxy, rewarding well the agents of the state that execute the corporate will. Rights, both human and property, are assumed by the corporate persona and given, by the corporation, priority over the rights of natural persons.The rights of natural persons, such as you and me, become highly contingent privileges recognized by the corporation and granted by the state. (This has become explicit and legal in the context of NAFTA and other trade agreements executed under the WTO and bilaterally by the USA.)

What we seem to have inherited from the historic pragmatic choice (or default) to utilize the discourse and claims of rights is the domination of a rights discourse over more explicit political and social discourse and program.

Rights has moved from being a matter of means in a particular context to a matter of universal ends.

Rights, however, do not, by themselves, constitute a society, a civil order, or even a political program. The USA has had a Bill of Rights from its infancy, but that has not ensured the practice of social, economic, political or legal justice. Canada got along without a Charter of Rights until quite recently, with arguably more social justice than is to be found in the USA, and the United Kingdom has neither a written constitution nor a ‘declaration' of rights. Today the beneficiaries of the language of rights and their advocacy are more likely to be the corporations than any mere people, individually or collectively, as communities or the public.

The basic failing of the concept of rights is that it assumes an apposition. Being relational, a right without a context is meaningless. To exist, rights have to be recognized and granted; to be functional, they have to have legal authority. What power, class, institution or structure is expected to fulfill the expectations or demands of rights, and for whom? Corporations seem to have the power to simply seize and exploit rights; in contrast, the claims of rights by the less powerful have to be argued in the courts of the dominant power, which means from a position of weakness. Beyond that, even if rights are granted and/or recognized, they still have to be given substantive meaning: there is no inherent nutrition in the ‘right to food.' Such a right must be given meaning by providing real food to real people.

The language of rights, then, is essentially about power. Rights may be granted as a privilege by the powerful, in the form of a state, class or corporation, as an exception to its rule, while the more powerful assume privileges for themselves. Thus it is now corporations which would assume for themselves ‘Plant Breeders Rights' – with approval by the state – while they in turn would grant farmers the privilege of saving their own seeds for a season. Rights have been transformed into a surrogate for “the real thing.” That is, the right to food as a political demand has come to replace the ability to feed oneself as a matter of social justice, just as the farmer's right to save seeds replaces the practice of actually doing so.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that's all.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass

“Food as a human right”: The UN Special Rapporteur has attempted to address the concerns for food sovereignty by stretching the term ‘right to food' to cover them. “The obligation to respect means that Governments must not violate the right to food (e.g. evict people from their land, destroy crops),” he says. “The obligation to protect means that governments must protect their citizens against violations by other actors (e.g. by instituting regulations on food safety). The third obligation to fulfill the right to food means the Government must first facilitate the right to food by providing an enabling environment for people to feed themselves (e.g. engage in land reform, stimulate employment).”– United Nations Economic and Social Council, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: The Right to Food, 1/03

“Food security”: Here in BC, the BC Food Systems Networkadopted the term ‘food systems' in an attempt to avoid the confusion inherent in ‘food security', which it also redefined to include a economically viable and ecologically sustainable system in which access to appropriate food is assured and food is celebrated as central to culture and community. Food Secure Canada /Alliance Canadianne pour le s é curit é alimentaire – the fledgling national organization to unite people and organizations working for food security nationally and globally – continues to use the term with a small twist in its English name. In the USA, the Community Food Security Coalition depends on its community development focus to add nuance to its name.

 

#232: August/September 2005 TOC
The Right to Food
The Cargill Column:
 ongoing coverage of one of the world's leading corporations: 
* $71.1 billion and growing 
* How it grows 
* If it can be turned into a commodity, Cargill will market it 
Niger:
 Starving in the Midst of Plenty - an article from the Guardian Weekly 
Does inequality really matter?
 - from a review by Polly Toynbee of a book by Richard Wilkinson, pointing out that it is social equity which makes populations healthy 
Court Case to Proceed -
 the Saskatchewan farmers may pursue their class action suit against biotech giants contaminating their crops 
A different view of the world:
 Bold New Markets - how to do well by doing good; Drugs are the Answer - anti-obesity drugs hailed as the answer to childhood obesity 
"Modern, Improved Maize" and Diabetes -
 research shows changes in the ancient corn varieties have reduced anti-oxidants 
New corn is a breed apart -
 fighting back against genetic contamination by breeding corn which blocks external pollination 
Monsanto Watch: Patenting pigs -
 in a move which left even critics breathless, Monsanto has moved to patent the processes of breeding pigs; Charity - Monsanto Malawi donates $1 million to the World Food Programme; Ethics Oversight - shareholders call for an independent ethics committee for the corporation 

 

Issue 233: October 2005

 Food Secure Canada

For more than five years, people involved in ‘food security' in Canada have been trying to get together to create a common voice. It's not an easy task. As food banks have become institutionalized as a regular part of the food system, and as farmers' real incomes have dipped below zero, the questions of how to feed all Canadians (not to mention issues of trade or genetic engineering) have tended to drive activists into separate solitudes, if not outright conflict. Last year at the second national Food Security Assembly, a first step towards unity was taken in the recognition that the three distinct areas of concern are, in fact, linked. Ecological sustainability, economic justice, and the integrity of both the food system and the food itself are essential if the goal of “zero hunger” is to be achieved.

The organizers of the third Assembly, held at the end of September in Waterloo, Ontario (notably Ellen Desjardins and Sanjay Govindaraj) aimed to move beyond this high-minded rhetoric, by ensuring that all delegates participated in sessions addressing each of the three themes identified at the previous Assembly: zero hunger, sustainable food systems, and safe and healthy food. Canada's role in trade, aid, biotechnology and international agriculture and rural development formed a fourth theme. The goal was to emerge from the conference with a clear set of policy priorities for a new national organization, tentatively named Food Secure Canada – and it worked! While Food Secure Canada is not yet a formal organization, the Assembly ratified a Constitution, agreed on the formation of a Steering Committee, and accepted several policy proposals, including development of a ‘report card' on food security, an agreement to join the International Alliance Against Hunger, and designing a broad initiative for ‘food localism'.

In fact, there were 81 specific recommendations from the workshops, reflecting the broad diversity of the participants, which included rural, urban, northern and indigenous people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that everyone came with their own agenda – things like

• mandatory labelling of GMOs
• a campaign to oppose factory farming
• a ‘local' label to increase the market for locally produced food
• championing the concept of the ‘right to food' in domestic and international policy
• a campaign against advertising junk food to children
• joining the ‘Ban Terminator' campaign
• ‘environmental tax credits' to support sustainable agriculture
• regulatory regimes that support community-focussed, low-impact agriculture
• support of indigenous access to traditional lands.

Some of these received wide-spread support while others sparked strong debate. The resulting conflicts were avoided to some extent by a commitment that the Steering Committee will develop a policy document which will include all the recommendations, organized according to which are most urgent and achievable. The spirit of collaboration was also enhanced by the leadership of the conference, particularly Mustafa Koc from Ryerson University in Toronto, who spoke passionately and persuasively about the absolute necessity of working together.

While there is still much organizational work to do, the critical steps have now been taken to establish a voice for civil society in Canada which can address food policy at the federal as well as the regional and local levels. The positive energy generated by Waterloo will help as the group works in the next year to include all its constituents in a meaningful way in developing that voice.

The Giant Made Visible

I have to wonder what the Cargillites think when Invisible Giant and I turn up in yet another corner of their empire, the latest being Argentina. “Gigante Invisible - Cargill y sus estrategias transnacionales,” the Spanish edition of Invisible Giant, was published in Argentina in October as a cooperative effort of GRAIN, REDES-AT (Friends of the Earth) in Uruguay, and Grupo de Reflexi ó n Rural (GRR) in Argentina. In honour of the occasion, Cathleen and I burned up some of our airmiles and after attending the founding conference of Food Secure Canada in Kitchener, Ontario, we flew on to Buenos Aires. Actually, we were all set to go to Argentina four years ago just as the economy collapsed. Our friends advised us not to come at that time, being unsure what might happen. Memories of the dictatorship (1976-1983) were all too powerful.

“The armed forces applied harsh measures against terrorists and many suspected of being their sympathizers. They restored basic order, but the human costs of what became known as “El Proceso,” or the “Dirty War” were high. Conservative counts list between 10,000 and 30,000 persons as “disappeared” during the 1976-83 period.” – US State Dept. Background Note, 9/05

What the US refers to as “terrorists” were virtually all the progressive student, union and political leaders in a country of (now) 38.6 million people.

Our 9-day visit actually included two days in Montevideo, Uruguay, which is a three-hour fast-ferry catamaran (70 km/hr) ride from Buenos Aires across the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. In Montevideo we met with leaders and staff of the World Rainforest Movement, REDES-AT, and RA-PAL (Pesticide Action Network Latin America), trade unionists and a representative from the organic farmers, as well as presenting the book at a public meeting.

Our first night in Buenos Aires was spent at the Cooperativa Bauen Hotel. This hotel was privatized and operated for about ten years, during which time the owner did not make any payments to the government. Finally the hotel was to be closed but the workers formed a cooperative and took over management under legislation brought in after the 2001 collapse. It is now a workers hotel and the locus of many social justice activities and organizations. We met some of our hosts in the hotel café .

After several days of meetings and interviews about my book, the food economy of the country and possible alternatives, as well as some sightseeing around the city (and enjoying the compulsory tango show, excellent beef and vino tinto ), we headed by car 300 km north up the Parana River to Rosario, the third largest city (pop.1.3 million) in Argentina, a hub of agroindustrial activity and a deep-water port. After emerging from the sprawling city, we travelled the flat land of the Pampas looking at hectare after hectare of brown stubble – including most of the road verges – on a warm spring day when everything else was turning green. The fields had all been ‘burned off' with glyphosate herbicide in preparation for the planting of transgenic soja (soy). Much of the glyphosate comes from China at a much lower cost than Monsanto's Roundup (the patent has expired, enabling the generics to come in).

Traditional agriculture on the Pampas was a sustainable alteration of five years in pasture for beef and some sheep and five years of cropping (which they refer to as ‘agriculture') without fertilizers or pesticides. Now the vast plains of central and northern Argentina, all the way up through Paraguay, are dedicated to a perpetual monoculture of transgenic herbicide-tolerant soy, pesticides and imported (by Cargill) fertilizers. (The people who get “fumigated,” as they say, by the aerial spraying are not as “tolerant” of glyphosate as the transgenic soy.)

At two well-attended meetings in Rosario we followed our now-customary pattern of presentations: Carlos Vicente of GRAIN, Adolfo Boy of GRR, and myself. My role was to describe Cargill's operating strategies and practices since the company is building a very large port and soy processing facility in what was a residential/agricultural area on the south side of Rosario. The land Cargill is building on was zoned agricultural and growing vegetables, but with the promise of paying a good price for it, Cargill (typically) got the farmer who owned it to get the zoning changed to industrial rather than trying to get it rezoned itself. Then Cargill bought it and proceeded to start construction of a loading/unloading pier 300 metres into the river and the sprawling storage and processing facility with only the flimsiest of environmental assessments. The local fishermen are particularly concerned about the effects of the pier on the river and the fish. At this time, Cargill has permission to build the plant but not to operate it. Needless to say, it is not investing a reputed $200 million without the assurance of being able to operate the plant, which will employ only 165 people.

Meanwhile the nearby residents and many others are trying to win concessions from Cargill and the government, such as relocation of the road serving the port that will have to serve 500 trucks a day delivering soy so that it does not go through a residential area of the city.

Monoculture GE soy may be satisfying the demands of Argentina's creditors and enriching the few transnational corporations which are processing and exporting it, but it provides a poor diet for Argentinians. Around San Pedro, for example, where we stopped for lunch on the way to Rosario, our host Adolfo Boy told us that when he was working there as an agronomist, sweet potatoes were the major crop. Of course they were a highly nutritious food, consumed locally, and easy to grow. Farmers did not need to buy seed, he told us, because the sweet potatoes would grow if you just dropped a piece of one on the ground. They also grew peas and oranges, most of which were replaced by lemons – for export – and now soy, for export.

The moral of the story: Industrial agriculture is bad, from beginning to end. Argentinians, who used to be among the best fed people anywhere, are now being, quite literally, forced to consume soy in place of milk, meat, vegetables and pulses such as lentils which were once produced in abundance on the small farms that have been overrun by large landowners growing soy. Lentils are now imported from Canada, of all absurdities. One does not even want to wonder how many of the ubiquitous garbage pickers on the streets of Buenos Aires were once small farmers.

Now it is GE soy, from roadside to horizon. Such monoculture production is degrading the land, is responsible for poor nutrition and high food costs, and is expressing its environmental impact on the roads and waterways. Changing course back to a sustainable, local food system becomes increasingly difficult as corporations such as Cargill gain increasing control through their massive investments and skilful political policy work.

Gone forever are my romantic images of the Pampas as rolling green fields and herds of range cattle.

 

#233: October 2005 TOC
Food Secure Canada
The Giant Made Visible
Argentina and soja (soy) -
 statistics on production 
Cargill Argentina -
 a thumbnail history 
Herbicide-Resistant Weeds -
 Horseweed and Pigweed have both been found to resist glyphosate 
'Co-existence' impossible -
 GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to 15 years later 
Small Scale Producers -
 a helpful conference statement 
Priceless? Not any more -
 selling breastmilk 
Fair Trade Nestle? -
 the food and drink giant will now sell one line of Fair Trade coffee 
We Don't Need Genetically Modified Foods -
 a statement from Ghana 

 

Issue 234: November-December 2005

 LIGHTNING STRIKES

by Brewster Kneen

I have long been somewhat puzzled by the very aggressive role played by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the promotion of biotechnology and genetically engineered crops around the world, particularly in Africa. The most obvious explanation: the US Government is simply exercising its neo-liberal function of promoting and financing corporate welfare. But this has never felt to me like an entirely adequate explanation.

Then, like a bolt of lightening, a thought struck me as I was reading an article by Philip Agee on “How United States Intervention Against Venezuela Works.” Agee is a former CIA operative who left the agency in 1967 after becoming disillusioned by the CIA's role in Latin America.

In this article, Agee describes and documents how the US has carried out covert operations in various countries to try to keep them in line with US foreign policy and receptive to US business interests. He uses an analysis of US covert operations in Nicaragua as a template for his documented analysis of what the US has been and continues doing in Venezuela to bring down President Hugo Chavez.

What struck me was the thought that the aggressive US promotion of biotechnology worldwide, and particularly in Africa, might actually be a cover for even more evil intentions, namely, the nurturing of quasi-democratic governments in Africa that would not threaten the commercial and strategic interests of the US and its corporations. Perhaps Monsanto and Syngenta, along with USAID and ‘NGOs' such as the Rockefeller/industry-funded ISAAA, are actually pursuing a more despicable agenda than simply the spread of biotech crops for control of the global food system and corporate profit.

All the biotech ‘research' centres, educational programs, capacity building workshops etc. and all the contacts and networks established through these programs – with their salaries and gratuities (pay-offs) – may well be the vehicles of subversion to ensure that African governments are compliant with US government-corporate interests in mineral resources and OIL.

In How United States Intervention Against Venezuela Works,Philip Agee says this about the US actions in Venezuela:

“It is no secret that the government of the United States is carrying out a program of operations in favor of the Venezuelan political opposition to remove President Hugo Chávez Frías and the coalition of parties that supports him from power. The budget for this program, initiated by the administration of Bill Clinton and intensified under George W. Bush, has risen from some $2 million in 2001 to $9 million in 2005, and it disguises itself as activities to “promote democracy,” “resolve conflicts,” and “strengthen civic life.” It consists of providing money, training, counsel and direction to an extensive network of political parties, NGO's, mass media, unions, and businessmen, all determined to end the bolivarian revolutionary process. . . The program of political intervention in Venezuela is one more of various in the world principally directed by the Department of State (DS), the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) along with its four associated foundations. . .

“From the beginning of covert actions, the CIA was plagued by the perennial difficulty faced by their beneficiaries to justify or conceal the funds the Agency gave them. To resolve this problem in part, the CIA established relations with cooperating U.S. foundations through which it channelled funds to foreign recipients. It also created a network of its own foundations that sometimes were nothing more than paper entities managed by lawyers on contract with the Agency. . . These foundations supported political parties and other organizations abroad that shared their political persuasions. . . The NED and its associated foundations were conceived as a mechanism to channel funds toward political parties and other foreign civil society institutions that favoured US interests, above all the neo-liberal agenda of privatization, deregulation, control of unions, reduction of social services, elimination of tariffs, and free access to markets. The entire mechanism was, and is, nothing more than an instrument of US government foreign policy. . . . Since the adoption of Project Democracy in 1983, the US has attempted to establish and strengthen, in various countries around the world, pro-US ‘democracies' controlled by elites who identify with the US political class and who can take advantage of the ‘bought democracy' that the US seeks to impose. In this way the US aims to eliminate the danger that a truly democratic government of working people would represent to its interests.” – Znet, September 09, 2005

One could be forgiven for thinking that the network of agencies, departments, committees and projects put in place all over Africa for the promotion of genetically engineered crops and the deliberate creation of dependency through the dismemberment of local and traditional agriculture would be bad enough, without also providing the infrastructure open to utilization and manipulation by agents working not only to promote US corporate interests, but also US foreign policy objectives. Think of the biotech infrastructure financed by the US as a comprehensive network of ‘lite' military establishments or foreign bases of operations. The number of names and acronyms to be found even in the brief items below is impressive – and so are the lies so easily told about the benefits of biotechnology!!

EXAMPLES: The following reports are verbatim, though severely edited for length.

“The USAID country mission through PBS is assisting Ghana to build that capacity for the safe handling of Genetically Modified Organisms and for export as necessary.” The group has a three-year lifespan to correspond with the project with funding of about $750,000 from USAID and includes USAID on its advisory board.

– Ghana News Agency 2/11/05

 

The Nigeria Agricultural Biotechnology Project (NABP) awareness workshop noted that research has proved that biotechnology can be used to improve the insect and pest resistance of our crops and livestock which will reduce cost of production and improve income of farmers. Workshop collaborators were the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture(IITA), the national Biotechnology Agency and the United States Agency for International Development ( USAID )

– Business Day, Nigeria, 6 /6/05

 

Ghana's Programme for Bio-safety Systems (PBS) is a three-year USAID supported project as part of their collaborative agricultural biotechnology initiative. It is to empower partner countries for science-based bio-safety decision making while strengthening capacity to implement it through an innovative system. Bio-safety is also a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from modern bio-technology and its products. – Ghana News Agency, 29/6/05

 

A number of journalists from Anglophone West African countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, have had frank discussions with African scientists on biotechnology and related issues at a two-day workshop in Accra in June at the end of which they agreed that there is the urgent need for African scientists to employ biotechnology to help address food security and health matters on the continent. The workshop was organised by the Forum in Agricultural Research for Africa, FARA, with funding fromUSAID , to expose media persons to the reality of biotechnology in order to properly position them to engage in positive debates on the subject. – Accra Mail, Ghana, 22/6/05

 

NABP Director General Professor Omaliko said that NABP resulted from an agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the United States Agency for International Development ( USAID ) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). He said The project, which was launched with the sum $2.1 million has the purpose of laying the foundation for Nigeria to take advantage of biotechnology and its applications to improve agriculture. It will be implemented over a three-year period and will address the following specific mandates:
- To improved biotechnology capacity for Nigerian scientists and institutions;
- To enhanced public awareness on biotechnology and
- To support the implementation of biosafety policies.
The NABP is structured into advocacy, capacity building and research component for the purposes of implementation. . . NABDA is the Nigerian Government's Institutional framework with a clear mandate to promote, coordinate and regulate biotechnology in the country. – This Day, Nigeria, 6/6/05

 

The United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced several initiatives that will be implemented in Africa to strengthen biotechnology research and development. Veneman said a US private and public sector team of cotton experts will travel to West Africa to look into the cotton industry. The team will recommend how best West African cotton industries can become more efficient and competitive. This will serve as a model for cooperation in other parts of Africa. A second activity will be a follow-up conference later this year in Mali to be hosted by West African countries that attended the Burkina Faso Ministerial. In addition, the US will help West Africa achieve its goal of creating a regional African Center of Excellence for Biotechnology. A variety of technical assistance, training, and cooperative research, exchange, and development programs will be provided to facilitate and accelerate the transfer and adaptation of biotechnology to the region. Guidance on establishing appropriate biotechnology standards and regulatory systems will be provided as well. – CropBiotech Update, 24/9/04

 

A US expert on biotechnology, Dr. Vernon Gracen from Cornell University, is visiting Tanzania to discuss with Tanzanian agriculture stakeholders the application of advances in biotechnology in the agricultural sector. According to a statement from the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the workshops will be a good opportunity for stakeholders and policy makers to share experiences on biotechnology, especially at this time when the government of Tanzania is debating on biotechnology policy and application of GMOs. US Embassy's Spokesperson John Haynes, said the Embassy decided to invite Dr. Gracen to the country because biotechnology has great potential for protecting Tanzania against food scarcity, and increasing productivity by developing insect, drought, and virus resistant crops. Haynes noted that commercially available foods and crops using biotechnology have been subjected to more testing and regulation than any other agricultural products and have been found safe. Dr. Gracen is also involved with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSPII) as an advisor on the development of product commercialization packages. – United States Department of State / U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, 1/4/05

Memo from an NGO observer at the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Ministerial Meeting, June 2005 to gaia@gaianet.org

. . . a disturbing trend is gathering pace across Africa. While policymakers rightly call for Biosafety laws to be put into place, this is more and more being seen as a preliminary to GM acceptance, rather than an actual means to regulate GM crops and prevent risks. Of course with many countries getting their Biosafety advice and funding from USAID , this is hardly surprising.

We also continue to see a blurring of the lines between “biotechnology” and “genetic engineering”. Promoters of GMOs can appear reasonable by talking about a variety of biotechnology techniques, and pointing out that genetic engineering is only one of those techniques – whilst really channelling the majority of their funding and effort towards GM. By referring to brewing of beers, bread and yogurt as biotechnology, they are able to claim that biotechnology has been around for hundreds of years and is nothing new. This, obviously, distracts from the fact that the moving of genes between species in a laboratory environment and patenting the crop, is a very new development that has barely been tested.

Biotechnology is also increasingly being seen as such an incredible technology with all the answers, that ECOWAS discussions have led to the recommendation that countries prioritize biotechnology research in their budgets. GM will therefore be getting the lion's share of funding, at the expense of sustainable, ecological and socially responsible solutions. USAID must be happy.

 

#234: November-December 2005 TOC
Lightning Strikes -- Brewster suddenly realizes how USAID is clearing the way for US power in Venezuela as in Africa 
People's Victory in Switzerland --
 Florianne Koechlin reports on the Swiss referendum for a moratorium on GMOs 
PEI decides against a ban on GMOs
Terminate Terminator --
 the real scoop from Pat Mooney; and a postcard campaign to the Federal Government 
Feathers of Mass Destruction --
 the connection between Avian Flu and intensive poultry rearing 
Pork Concentrate -- Get Bigger, Get Subsidies
Soybeans and Guns in Rural Paraguay --
 Kregg Heatherington reports on the sobering situation in the pampas of Latin America 
Hunger Count --
 Canada's food banks issue a new report showing hunger is on the rise 

 

2004

Tables of Contents

January 2004 to December 2004

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to read the feature article of that issue by clicking on the red titles. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please contact us for a subscription or sample copy. We can also help with serious research. See also our Current Issue page.

#226: December 2004 TOC
Upstream Ethics: Brewster outlines our basic position on biotechnology

#225: November 2004
Planting trees for peace: : Kenyan Wangari Mathai wins the Nobel prize

#224: September 2004
Open-Pollinated Corn: an article by Susan Hundertmark on the positive experience of an Ontario farmer with open-pollinated corn

#223: August 2004
Safe Food? We look at the degradation of Hallowe'en into a commercial event as a sign of changes in the food system

#222: July 2004
A Personal Note: Brewster and Cathleen celebrate 40 years of marriage and
common work

#221: June 2004
Court Confusion: Brewster analyses the Supreme Court decision in the Monsanto-Schmeiser case

#220: April/May 2004
Privatisation and the Public Domain: Brewster reflects on the shrinking
public domain and announces an initiative to address it.
Avian Flu: Cathleen suspects that industrialization of the poultry industry
is at the root of the problem.

#219: March 2004
The Cargill Serial/Cereal episode# lost track

#218: February 2004
Argentina: the last Roundup - how Roundup Ready soy is destroying Argentina's
  agriculture, ecology, and economy

#217: December 2003/January 2004
Corruption:
    Part 1: Parmalat  - one of the biggest corporate scandals in history
    Part 2: Ignacio Chapela denied tenure
    Part 3: cosy relationship between UC David and seed industry,
        AgCanada and Monsanto

 

Issue 218: February 2004

 

Editor’s note: Once again we feel compelled to report an excessive amount of information about the continued assault of Monsanto on Creation and its inhabitants. The reports from Argentina, along with notes from elsewhere, paint a picture of an increasingly desperate corporation devoid of responsibility and any ethical or moral sense.
The question I keep asking myself is, How have we let Monsanto (and it could be any other corporation) assume such a dictatorial position in our food supply? The natural second question is, How can we prevent any other corporation playing the same role when Monsanto goes down the drain? – which it cannot do soon enough.

Not many years ago Argentina was the land of beef cattle and the gaucho. Its people were not hungry. This is no longer the case. Argentina is now the world’s third largest soybean producer after the USA and Brazil, and Brazil will likely become #1 this year. Land planted in soy has tripled over the last decade to nearly 32 million acres in 2003. Argentina exported nearly 25 million tons of soy meal and oil last year. Estimates are that only 18% of the soybean planted last autumn (spring in Argentina) on a total of 14 million hectares, was purchased through recognized retailers in Argentina.

Monsanto says it stopped selling RR soybean seeds (which are open-pollinated, thus making it possible for farmers to save seeds for replanting) in Argentina in December, and will now concentrate on Roundup Ready corn, which the government has not yet approved, and new varieties of sunflower seeds and sorghum which are hybrids, thus requiring that farmers buy new seeds every year.

Some analysts say the rapidly growing practice of farmers saving seed from a harvested crop for planting the next year – or for trading with or selling to neighbouring farmers – has pared Monsanto’s Argentine revenues from $580 million in 2001 to $300 million in 2002. Monsanto had about 15% of the soybean seed business, industry
sources say. Now that it has withdrawn, just three major companies remain – Netherlands – based Nidera and Asociados Don Mario and Relmo of Argentina. – B.K.

The following comes from Grupo de Reflexión Rural (Rural Reflection Group), Argentina

The decision by Monsanto to withdraw from the marketing of transgenic soya beans in Argentina turns out to be a shocking indicator of just how dependent the country has become on the multinational agricultural corporation. The top political echelons, the dominating media and public opinion are all in shock; they feel helpless, and they suspect there is something significant outside their radar screens that threatens to change their lives…

Those of us in the Grupo de Reflexión Rural who so many times have tried to forecast the ominous future of soya monoculture, now ask ourselves whether Monsanto is jumping ship before a terrible rust disease hits… or perhaps before the predicted collapse of Argentinian agricultural soils materializes. In addition, we wonder if what we are facing is a massive blackmail strategy by the Kichner Government to modify the constitutional rights of farmers to save their own seed…

At any rate, let us recall that Monsanto’s big business in Argentina had nothing to do with any royalites on seeds; rather it centred on the massive sales of its star Roundup herbicide. We also recall that Felipe Solá, as Minister of Agriculture in ’96, and currently Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, licensed Roundup Ready soya with the understanding that Argentinian farmers be exempt from patent royalties on Monsanto products. This shines light not only on Solá’s complicity with the corporation and the thrust to introduce RR soya, but also on the fact that at the time Monsanto was focusing on the bolsa blanca, or ‘white bag’ (referred to as ‘brown bag’ seed in North America), that is, encouraging the distribution of uncertified seed among farmers to accelerate the spread of RR soya.

This is exactly what Monsanto has been doing in Brazil. During the 1990s in the Sate of Río Grande do Sul, at the time when Governor Dutra of the PT boasted that he presided over the only territory free of transgenics, Monsanto was giving away glyphosate to those farmers who could produce a label proving they were using RR soya. Of course, these seeds were illegally purchased from Argentina. Monsanto was not worried about patent infringement because the goal was to strategically dominate the region with their products, or, in other words, appropriate the food sovereignty of the communities. Through the bolsa blanca exporters bought off the Argentine farmer by subsidizing their production. This is how soya production was and continues to be a profitable business in Argentina.

For years Monsanto looked away, indifferent, when the North American farm organizations lamented the unequal competition from the “Soya Republic”– where farmers did not pay for seed, where glyphosate cost a third of its US price, and where the government paid no attention whatsoever to the terrible impact of this production system on soils and ecosystems. For Monsanto we were THEIR territory, we were THEIR laboratory, where the poor and the indigent were fed though large donations of transgenic soya beans…

Now that they have access to all of the territory and now that they have made us dependent on this drug, they will charge for the seed patents, which in fact they have already been doing through the contracts that farmers sign, contracts that turn farmers merely into tenants for seeds they do not own.

However, they know only too well that when dealing with an open-pollinated crop like soya, control is out of reach because farmers can easily keep their own seed and because the absent State cannot even think about changing farmers’ tradition of seed exchange. It is more likely that Monstanto’s new business will centre on corn, sorghum, and transgenic RR oilseeds where hybrids prevailand farmers have no choice but to buy seed every season.... Argentina remains a forage nation and a laboratory country, whose Minister of Finance, Lavagna, has acknowledged without hesitation that his Ecolatina Consulting enjoys the patronage of Monsanto as its principal client.

As a result of the soya monoculture, Argentina is heading straight towards a massive catastrophe involving desertification, a widespread water table collapse, major population migration, disappearance of rural culture, massive deforestation, and a growing vulnerability to foreign trade linked to soya by-products.

– Jorge Eduardo Rulli, GRR Grupo de Reflexión Rural (Rural Reflection Group), Argentina, 21/1/04, translated by Ricardo Ramirez

“Republiqueta Sojera” (Soya Republic), is the name that NGOs in Argentina have used to warn the population of the dangers of the aggressive Roundup Ready soya expansion that has been sweeping across the country over the last 10 years. This name was used in an ironic way as a critique to the export oriented agricultural model being adopted.

But on December 27th 2003 an advertisement sponsored by Syngenta in the rural section of the Argentine “La Nación” newspaper came as a shock to us. It shows a map of the “República Unida de la Soja” (United Soya Republic) – a territory spanning Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil that is covered by RR soya. ...

While Monsanto profits on seed, glyphosate and other increased pesticides sales, Syngenta has also found a niche in the RR soya business. In another advertisement in the same newspaper, Syngenta says “soya is a weed” in reference to the RR soya that is left behind from prior harvest and grows during the non-planting season. In order to solve this “weed” problem, they promote the use of the highly toxic paraquat marketed by Syngenta.

– Lilian Joensen, Grupo de Reflexión Rural

Argentina, once known as the world’s best beef producer and the breadbasket of the world, today is now sometimes called the Oil Republic or Soya Republic – the paradigm of an agricultural model based on the production of GM crops.

The effects can be seen in the disappearance of thousands of farming units, with consequent massiverural exodus to the cities; a large increase in the area of land devoted to cropping at the expense of pasturing cattle; increase in oilseed production, mainly soya, at the expense of traditional crops; and deforestation. Despite frequent warnings against RR soya monoculture, millions of hectares have been devoted to this oilseed, leading to an agriculture without farmers. The absence of protective national agricultural policies has led to the loss of phytogenetic patrimony [heritage of plant diversity].

At the beginning of the 1980s, world market prices for grains and oilseeds increased. Soon cattle raising/cropping cycles were abandoned in favour of a permanent crop cultivation system, which was more lucrative, since the production of soybean in rotation with wheat, maize or sunflower allowed 3 harvests in 2 years.

With the new global open economy, traditional agronomic production thus found itself severely affected by external market fluctuations. In 1991, at the start of the Menem administration, the internal monetary policy, commonly known as convertibility, further affected rural producers, who suddenly found that their grains previously valued in pesos, had the same value in US dollars.

These policies conspired to produce a complete lack of competitiveness for Argentinean primary exports. Without a national agricultural framework which could protect middle and small producers from external market fluctuations, farmers had to choose between quality production and variety, or the apparently cheap route offered by the biotechnology industry, namely the production of competitive commodities for export. In this way, Argentina lost crop varieties for which the country was market leader, such as Maíz Plata (Silver Maize) and Candeal wheat, and fell steeply into the production of GMOs, primarily RR soya.

In 1992 the then under-secretary of Agriculture, Carlos Ingaramo, indicated that 200,000 producers had to disappear from the rural areas and that productive units with less than 200 hectares were not viable to compete globally. These comments were consistent with the neoliberal model applied by the Menem administration during the ’90s. The preliminary results of the agricultural Census of 2002 shows farming production units reduced since 1988 by 24.5 %; there are now 103,405 fewer farms. There is also an enlargement of the these units, from 421 hectares in 1988 to 538 in 2002.

The greatest change in the agricultural model occurred in 1996 with the introduction of the RR soya bean. This introduced the so-called seeding pools (pooles de siembra), renting land from impoverished farmers to plant crops, invariably soya.

Small farmers, due to increasing interest rates and lower crop prices, are not able to stay in business (actually 24 millions acres are about to be auctioned by banks). As a temporary solution, farmers have access, as the last resort, to credits given by suppliers who will sell them a complete package, including GM seeds. Because commodity prices are lower every year, financial recovery is impossible despite large yields, so these small farmers frequently face bankruptcy. At best they still retain the land but have no way to get inputs, so they must offer their land for rent: every year it becomes a cheaper deal for the seeding pools.

Surveys performed during 2001 confirm that 7,000 families every year are being pushed off the land. The exodus of the rural population logically coincides with an enormous concentration in the ownership of land devoted to the production of commodities. As a counterpart, migration to the cities has produced a great increase in the poor and hungry urban population in the belts of misery of the great cities.

Although one of the main arguments in favour of GM crop production is that it reduces the use of herbicides, Argentina has proved the contrary. The package sold for RR soy production includes RR soybeans, machinery for no-tillage cultivation and three winter applications of glyphosate and 2,4D in chemical fallow. RR soya absorbs 32% of the distribution of pesticide sales, while maize, corn and sunflower absorb 25.5%. The rest is distributed among pasture, horticulture, fruit, citrus fruits, cotton, etc. It is a normal practice to deliver pesticides from aeroplanes. This has meant that many rural towns and cities are suffering from pesticide health consequences both in human populations and in their crop and animals.

While no-till agriculture was supposed to decrease soil erosion, it has meant substantial changes in the ecosystem, such as the appearance of new diseases, insects and pests, an increase in contamination, and emergence of resistance in weeds and insects.

According to some Argentine agronomists, another problem with this production system is the continuous nutrient extraction from the soil. This means that in 20 years, nitrogen deficiencies will limit yield in 60 to 70% of the cultivated areas of Argentina, while phosphorus deficiency will affect 70% of the cultivated areas and 60% in the case of the best soils. At present, increasing amounts of fertilisers are being used. Traditional cropping/cattle rotation, a natural and efficient system of allowing the soil to recover, is falling into disuse, with disadvantages both from the economical and ecological points of view.

If GM crops are meant to fight hunger in the world, the Argentinean case again proves that the opposite happens when this model is applied. Argentina has over 13,000,000 hectares of GM crops, mainly RR soya. This model has expelled people from the rural areas to the cities, pushing them into extreme poverty since they cannot produce their own food. In a country where poor people never died of hunger, since they were able to cultivate their crops and grow their animals, now hunger is a daily occurrence. The GM crop agricultural model needs almost no human handcraft. Machines can do almost all the work from sowing to harvest. RR soy may have won the competition against traditional high quality crops; this has also meant the loss of traditional crops such as diverse species of sweet potatoes or sweet maize, and has resulted in the closure of production units for the processing of these crops, leaving no jobs for people in those areas.

One such crop is lentils, which have always been an important part of our diet. Now we have to import them, for example from Canada, since we do not produce enough for ourselves. The same is true of peas. 150,000 of the 300,000 pre-existing dairy production units have been closed. Now Argentina is importing milk. Cotton production, in which Argentina used to be more than self sufficient, is not enough to cover the needs of the national textile industry and must be imported.

Food aid programs for the poor are based on RR soya, which has proved to have inhibitory effects on iron,calcium, zinc and B12 vitamin uptake. The concentration of phytoestrogens is also too high. A few years ago Argentina used to produce varied and healthy food for 8 times its population. Now, in ‘beef country,’ the poor are being fed with crops used for animal feed in the first world.

– Lilian Joensen and Stella Semino, Grupo de Reflexión
Rural, Argentina

 

#218: February 2004 TOC
Argentina: the last Roundup - how Roundup Ready soy is destroying Argentina's
  agriculture, ecology, and economy
More on Monsanto: Blackmail and other crutches, GE Wheat, Schmeiser vs. Monsanto
The state of (non)labelling in Canada
Stolen Seeds: a new publication - the Ram's Horn is proud to announce a piece of
  essential reading from Devlin Kuyek
About the Forum on the Patenting of Life /Forum sur le brevetage du vivant
Public Money pays for Biotech Industry PR: dogged researcher Brad Duplisea
  uncovers more details
GE Resistance in Japan: Ray Epp reports on new local initiatives in Japan

 

Issue 220: April/May 2004

 Privatisation and the Public Domain 

Once upon a time, the public domain was very large and very diverse. In fact, it probably accounted for most human activity and organization. Private property was very limited – little more than a knife, a cooking pot or two, some clothing and maybe a goat. Over time (to make a long story very short) people began accumulating possessions – some more than others – and the concept of ‘mine' and ‘yours' took on greater meaning. As disparities in the distribution of wealth and property deepened, these possessions began to require ‘protection'. With the industrial revolution and the rise of a materialist culture in what we now call ‘The West,' property gained increasing prominence as the measure of success and the concept was extended to inventions and non-material ideas. Then came the drug companies, the software companies, the giant media corporations . . . and the World Trade Organization and its TRIPS agreement.

Of course it all took a long time and was considerably more complex than this!

The domain of private property – and privatization – did not expand without cost, however, and the cost was paid by the public domain, which was steadily eroded and enclosed to create more private property. A good illustration of this is the replacement of the public commercial-social-cultural-political space of the market square with the private, commercial-only space of The Mall.

(The ‘first enclosure' was the enclosure of village commons by the feudal lords in Britain. The process began around 1700 and 4000 Private Acts of Enclosure had privatized some 7 million acres of commons before the Great Enclosure Act was passed in 1845, bringing an end to the economy of the commons upon which the welfare of the peasants depended. Deprived of their commons for growing and raising their own food, they were forced to provide the cheap labour required by the Industrial Revolution.)

The culture of commodification and exploitation for private gain has systematically diminished the commons and the public domain not only in tangible goods such as public services, utilities, and public spaces such as parks and even highways, but also in the intangible goods of ideas and information, now increasingly referred to as Intellectual Property.

It is essential to recognize, however, that Intellectual Property is a social construct, dependent for its meaning, legality and application on a strong central government and a legal system willing to enforce and extend the domain of private property at the expense of public good. Of course, there is a contradiction here when ‘government' is systematically reviled and its social justice and social welfare mandate is degraded and deconstructed.

Despite their dependence on a strong state, personal and corporate greed have become the unquestioned drivers of the economy, with the assumption that humans are motivated only by the prospect of acquisition, and that progress results solely from increased production and consequent economic growth. Any semblance of a common/public property regime is simply a block, if not an enemy, to wealth and progress.

While the granting of patents on plants, seeds, genes, gene sequences, ideas, data and information has accelerated dramatically in the past decade, proponents of the public domain, public good, the commons, and community life seem to have been unable to gain any significant leverage on the institutions of domination and exploitation.

One problem may be a lack of clarity on the basic concepts. We seed to recognize three quite distinct categories of property and space – private, common and public. (See also Ramshorn #213)

‘Private' is easily understood as belonging to a person or a family, however, since a corporation is a legal ‘person, corporately-owned property and space is considered just as much private as your domicile. The shopping mall is perhaps the most obvious example of the both the property and the space within it being privately – that is, corporately – owned. It pretends to be public space – and deliberately sets out to create the sense of a village square, but political activity and anything that might interfere with commerce is excluded. In fact, children growing up in the malls are deprived of any sense of the politics of public life along with an understanding of ‘commons.'

The term ‘commons' is wrongly used to describe what is considered as public. This misrepresentation can be attributed to Garret Hardin and his 1968 essay, The Tragedy of the Commons, in which he set out to demonize the concept of commons in order to finish off any notion of public interest or public good, and with it any positive connotations for public property and space. In reality, commons historically referred to property and space that was ‘owned' communally – by a group of fisherfolk or a village, for example – and managed for the long-term good of the group, including succeeding generations. Access to the property and space – fields, fishing grounds, forests – was limited to the group ‘owning' and managing it. It was not open to exploitation by outsiders, though limited use of the space could be extended by the group to ‘outsiders.' Thus a well-defined fishing area might be closed for fishing to all but the ‘owners' while still permitting everyone to swim or paddle in it.

The public domain, on the other hand, is open to all, but that does not mean a ‘free for all.' Access may be denied to those who refuse to play by the rules governing use of the public space and ‘property.' Roads and parks are good examples: anyone can use them, but the rules of the road must be obeyed, and are usually enforced by agents of the ‘state' – police of one sort or another. Village greens and market squares have also been socially and politically vital spaces for communities. (In British Columbia, the current ‘Liberal' regime has violated its public trust regarding public spaces by simply ignoring maintenance in many small provincial parks, firing most of the provincial park rangers and privatizing park management.)

The corporate grab for ‘genetic resources' – plant, animal and human – is being called “the second enclosure” by activists around the world who have been battling for farmers rights, retention of their seeds in their village commons and the recognition of traditional/indigenous knowledge. The public relations firms responsible for corporate image-making prefer to hide this reality behind language about ‘the common heritage of humanity.'

The social, environmental and personal costs resulting from ownership claims and privatization are increasingly visible and the moral and commercial claims made for privatization and private property are increasingly flimsy. What we need now is a vehicle for a broad public discussion about the theory and practice, merits and consequences of privatization and intellectual property regimes.

Canada, at this time, occupies a unique position on the issue of patenting life forms. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has consistently opposed the patenting of higher life forms and the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court in the oncomousecase, have taken the position that if Parliament wants to change the patent act to allow such patents, it is up to Parliament to do so, and it is not the role of the courts or the patent office to interpret existing legislation to suit purposes its framers could not possibly have foreseen. (The judgement of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Schmeiser vs. Monsanto case is still outstanding).

In the meantime, there are strong, well-financed interests, particularly the drug and biotech industries, pushing to enclose ever more of the public domain through intellectual property claims. A strong public voice is essential if the public domain is to regain its health and strength.

In light of all this, we are circulating a proposal to create a public voice – The Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain (P&PD) – on the full range of issues raised by the relentless expansion of what are considered to be patentable products, processes, discoveries, inventions and appropriated goods, or what is commonly referred to as intellectual property , and the instruments of privatization, particularly patents and copyright. This advancing domain stretches from seeds to software, from drugs to human genetic material, from Traditional Knowledge to poetry and music.

This is a huge task, and will require full-time, dedicated staff and appropriate funding as an independent non-profit organization. The Forum will be the focal point and clearinghouse for documentation on social, economic and legal aspects of intellectual property and related issues via electronic and print media. It will develop a base of speakers and resource persons for meetings, conferences and consulting. It will engage in public education and analysis on current issues and alternatives to existing intellectual property and privatization practices such as open source software and creative commons, and to current R&D funding practices in health care and agriculture.

The Forum will produce a monthly newsletter/ (paper and/or electronic) both for educational purposes and to build the network of interested citizens (the public voice). As appropriate, the Forum will raise this public voice to address matters of current importance. A listserv, the Forum on the Patenting of Life/Forum sur le brevetage du vivant, is already in place. (To be added to the list, send a brief self-descriptive message to Devlin Kuyek: devlink@sympatico.ca)

To get this off the ground with staff and communications capability, we need $100,000-200,000. We are in the process of developing a notable ‘steering committee' to oversee the project in its initial stage and to give it visibility. If this project is something that you would like to be part of in some way, or would like to support financially, or if you know of someone who might be able and willing to make a substantial tax-deductable contribution, please do let us know.

Contact Brewster: brewster@ramshorn.ca

phone: 250-675-4866,
mail: S6, C27, RR #1, Sorrento, BC V0E 2W0.

 

Avian Flu by Cathleen Kneen

With all the travelling Brewster has been doing lately in his work on Privatization and the Public Domain, the issue of Security has been very evident. Not only the endless waits while documents, baggage and shoes are checked, or the petty annoyance of being without his pocket knife, but also the current hot topic, ‘Biosecurity'. Last time he came back from a trip overseas, he was brewing a head cold, which he promptly contributed to the rest of the family. Now generally, we don't get colds. In fact, we rarely get sick at all. Living on the farm, eating raw food and drinking raw milk (and lots of hot peppers) we figure we have pretty healthy immune systems. But this bug Brewster brought back was a foreigner and we had little defence. Mind you, nobody was sick more than 24 hours with it, which isn't bad. Should we have put Brewster in quarantine for a week? Or just accepted that we would have to acclimatise to this new bug, painful though it may have been in the short term?

Actually, putting Brewster in quarantine might not have achieved anything anyway. The chicken farms in the Fraser Valley that first reported infection with Asian Flu had some of the most sophisticated and stringent biosafety protocols in the country. Nevertheless, they were not only infected, but the infection spread throughout the region. The latest word at the beginning of May is 19 million birds, from 37 commercial and 10 ‘backyard' flocks have been killed to stop the spread of the disease. In other words, pretty well everything with feathers in the Fraser Valley has been wiped out. The reaction of the authorities to this disease reminds me of the scene in Arlo Guthrie's 1960s classic “Alice's Restaurant” where young Arlo charms the Draft Board psychiatrist by jumping up and down and yelling: “Kill! kill! kill! kill!”.

The government's theory is that once the purge is completed, the barns can be thoroughly disinfected and re-stocked and life will go on as before. This of course begs a number of questions about the rise and spread of the disease: questions such as, does a healthy immune system protect a bird from the Avian Flu? or, to come at it from the other side, is there anything in the high-tech practices of our ultra-modern poultry facilities that might pre-dispose them to such an epidemic? According to the vets, the answer is no: this is what they call a ‘high-path' virus which is so infective that it will spread no matter how healthy the birds might be to start with. However, that's not the whole story.

The most recent statistics indicate that about 13% of Canada's poultry are in the Fraser Valley. Now, B.C.'s total population is about 13% of the national total. But the population of the Fraser Valley is only 59% of the population of BC – and yet 84% of the province's birds are produced there. It doesn't take a mathematical whiz to detect an imbalance there! and it doesn't take an environmentalist to note that such a concentration of birds in a small land base will cause serious pollution problems.

The fact is that with the exception of two or three farms which are Certified Organic, the commercial poultry farms in the Fraser Valley, like ‘chicken factories' elsewhere, keep laying hens housed in cages which are about the size of a sheet of writing paper; even “free run” birds have extremely limited access to outdoors and then often on concrete pads, not natural earth. (On organic farms the birds are free to scratch and supplement their vegetarian diet with high-protein bugs and grubs.) At the same time the land base for these factories is inadequate to absorb what current parlance calls the ‘nutrients' from the birds, turning manure which should be a valuable resource for growing, into a pollutant. There is no question that these birds are extremely productive for the duration of their short lives. But their productivity is based on high-protein feed (let's not talk about how the protein is derived), medication such as sub-therapeutic antibiotics – and biosecurity to guard against disease entering the barns from feed trucks or visitors' boots.

Of course, the Avian Flu is hardly limited to the Fraser Valley. In some other places the effects have been even more devastating. Since emerging late last year, Avian Flu has ravaged flocks across Asia and killed at least 24 people in Vietnam and Thailand. To stem the disease, authorities destroyed about 100 million chickens, ducks and other birds and temporarily quarantined farmers.

But the disease is affecting poultry farmers whether or not their birds get sick. In Bangladesh more than a third of the country's small poultry farms have gone out of production since January. Even though the farms were free of disease, a rumour caused such a slump in the chicken and egg markets in the country that farmers failed to recover the losses incurred during the panic even after it was over. About 35,000 out of more than 80,000 small farms were closed down in the last three months.

Back home in British Columbia, all the Certified Organic flocks are being destroyed although neither the CFIA, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, or the local organic farmers can cite an instance of the disease in Certified Organic flocks. Nevertheless, the CFIA and BC government approach is to blame the ‘backyard flocks' for the outbreak, on the theory that the disease is spread by wild birds. Farmers will be compensated for their losses, which will allow the factory farms to re-stock quickly but will do little for the specialty producers who have to rebuild breeding flocks, often with rare or heritage breeds.

The redoubtable organic egg farmer Fred Reid, in a statement on the organics.bc.ca website, reported that organic producers had a three-fold message for the government:
, First, bio diversity is the solution not the problem.
, Second, the poultry industry should be down sized and decentralized.
, Third, there should be no compensation to the industrial farm complex without changes to the factory farm model and recognition of the organic farm model.

Perhaps those authorities who are so eager to re-instate and reinforce the industrial model of agriculture should spend a little time in Japan, where the Agriculture Ministry and the poultry industry stage an annual ceremony to honour the chickens.

“We want to express our regret to chickens for having to kill them, while also giving thanks to them for providing us with food,” said Hideyuki Shimada, a director at the Japan Poultry Association. “I don't know how chickens feel about it, but humans should show appreciation.” – www.japantimes.co.jp

 

#220: April/May 2004 TOC
Privatisation and the Public Domain: Brewster reflects on the shrinking
public domain and announces an initiative to address it. 
Avian Flu:
 Cathleen suspects that industrialization of the poultry industry
is at the root of the problem. 
Farmers want to ban GMOs in PEI
Labelling:
 Canada, Brazil, and the EU: Canada's new voluntary standard
allows up to 5% GMO in a non-GMO product. Such a threshold would allow a
lot of Canadian beer to be labelled "alcohol-free". Brazil's threshold is
1% and the EU less than .9%. 
US called on to promote biotech in Australia:
 Monsanto-connected group
helps out 
US Corn Imports Upset Mexicans:
 GMO dumping and cheap prices harm Mexican
producers 
WTO rules against US cotton subsidies:
 a landmark victory for Brazil 
Wal-Mart:
 Let someone else pay: low pay and poor working conditions mean
the retail giant's workforce costs the taxpayer. Meanwhile, 5 of the Walton
(Wal-Mart's owners) family are among the 10 most wealthy people in the world.


 

Issue 221: June 2004

 Court Confusion

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Monsanto Canada v. Percy Schmeiser was delivered on May 21 st . The 5-4 decision puts the issue squarely before Parliament, where it belongs. The Court's decision not to award Monsanto either costs or damages, as was done in the lower courts, was unanimous (and welcome). The split came over the issue of the patenting of plants. While all agreed that higher life forms, including plants, cannot be patented, the dissenting opinion held that patented processes and genes did not convey a de facto patent on the plant while the majority held that it did.

A careful reading of the entire judgement is not demanding, but it is disturbing. To my non-legal mind, it appears that the majority opinion expresses a rather abysmal ignorance of biology. The argument is cast entirely in 19 th or 20 th century mechanical terms, such as reference to zippers and lego blocks. The majority opinion takes no notice of the self-replicating character of life forms. Nor does it appear to recognize that canola plants have, of necessity, the same growth and reproductive processes whether or not they have been genetically engineered to contain the RR ready genetic construct. The majority opinion virtually attributes the growth and reproduction of Schmeiser's canola to Monsanto's transgene.

Oddly, while the court did not award damages to Monsanto on the grounds that Schmeiser gained absolutely nothing by the “use” of Monsanto's patents, it nevertheless claimed infringement of the patent. While denying the possibility of patenting plants on the grounds that they are “higher life forms,” which was decisively ruled out by the judgement of the same court in the Harvard oncomouse case in 2002, in the Schmeiser case the majority opinion nevertheless held that because Monsanto has legitimate patents on both the transformation process and the genetic construct that is replicated throughout the plant, “use” of the plant – growing it – violates Monsanto's patents. According to my common sense, this amounts to de facto recognition of a patent on the whole plant.

As the court put it, “By cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, the appellants [Schmeiser] deprived the respondents [Monsanto] of the full enjoyment of the monopoly.”

This argument is more detailed in paragraph #42:

“In [this] case, the patented genes and cells are not merely a ‘part' of the plant; rather, the patented genes are present throughout the genetically modified plant and the patented cells compose its entire physical structure. In that sense, the cells are somewhat analogous to lego blocks. . . The Lego structure could not exist independently of the patented blocks. . .”

In other words, the court in its majority opinion is stating that canola did not and cannot exist without Monsanto's patented genetic constructs and transformation process. Which is obviously sheer nonsense that can only be argued on the grounds of biological ignorance.

The bias that permits such an argument is spelled out in paragraph #90, probably the most dangerous paragraph in the whole judgement:

“The appellants' argument also ignores the role human beings play in agricultural propagation. Farming is a commercial enterprise in which farmers sow and cultivate the plants which prove most efficient and profitable. Plant science has been with us since long before

Mendel. Human beings since time immemorial have striven to produce more efficient plants. Huge investments of energy and money have been poured into the quest for better seeds and better plants. One way in which that investment is protected is through the Patent Act giving investors a monopoly when they create a novel and useful invention in the realm of plant science, such as genetically modified plants and cells.”

The fact is that canola, the crop in question, was developed (by public researchers) long before 1990, when Plant Breeders Rights were introduced in Canada. The first legal form of “plant breeders' rights” did not come into existence until 1961 in Europe with the formation of the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties – UPOV – millennia after farmers started selecting seeds and altering plants.

The Court's opinion amounts to a huge insult to the many millions of farmers who have selected their seeds, nurtured their crops and selected their seeds every season in an unending cycle, not for maximum “efficiency” but for a wide variety of characteristics, conditions and uses – without a hint of ownership claims, patents or monopoly.

In contrast to the industrial perspective expressed in the majority opinion, the minority opinion pointed out that “there is no genuinely useful analogy between growing a plant in which every cell and every cell of all its progeny ar remotely traceable to the genetically modified cell and contain the chimeric gene and putting zipper in a garment, or tires on a car or constructing with Lego blocks. The analogies are particularly weak when it is considered that the plant can subsequently grow, reproduce, and spread with no further human intervention.” (#156)

Moral of the story: we have our work cut out for us to undo the “education” that the biotech industry has obviously inflicted on even Supreme Court Justices, to say nothing of the public and parliamentarians. This will have to be a high priority item on our post-election agenda.

The full text of the Canadian Supreme Court's judgement is atwww.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/index.html

Various Voices

“In its ruling on patent protection for genetically modified crops, the Supreme Court of Canada has sown the seeds for an even bigger battle over bioengineering. . . The Monsanto case raises difficult questions about how modified genetic material can be controlled once it is created. The court rightly tossed this hot potato back to Canada's lawmakers. Rapidly developing agricultural technology, it said, may give rise to “moral concerns about whether it is right to manipulate genes in order to obtain better weed control or higher yields. It is open to Parliament to consider these concerns and amend the Patent Act should it find them persuasive. . . . It is time Canadians had a full and open debate on the merits and pitfalls of bioengineering.” – Editorial, 25/5/04

“When a farmer plants a seed, he is planting hope – hope in the future, hope in a bountiful harvest,” concluded Boehm. “He or she is not planting Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene or their patent. A seed can remain a bundle of hope, or it can become a tool of oppression.” – Terry Boehm,Vice-President of the National Farmers Union

“We congratulate the Court for confirming the vital role scientific discovery and innovation play in Canada,” said BIOTECanada president, Janet Lambert in a press release. “We need to continue to foster a Made in Canada innovation environment.” – 21/5/04

“The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) applauds the Supreme Court judgment because Canadian farmers are now ensured of access to leading seed technologies needed to compete on a level playing field for years to come. We are pleased that today's Supreme Court decision recognizes that patents are an effective and necessary tool for protecting intellectual property and rewarding biotechnological inventions. Intellectual property protection tools, such as Plant Breeders' Rights and patents will continue to help Canadian research and development to flourish and research dollars to flow in. Technology developers will be able to continue to ensure that clear, deliberate infringement of their technology is stopped.” – CSTA Press Release, 21/1/04

As an intervener in the case, in support of Monsanto, the CSTA argued that, “There is no provision in the Patent Act which creates an implied licence for farmers to save and plant seeds; International treaties and discussions recognize and support the practice of seed saving and exchanging seed, making provisions for efforts aimed at the conservation and preservation of plant genetic resources; and, Saving seed of a bred plant variety that does not occur naturally, for future planting in a commercial farming operation does not constitute genetic resource conservation or preservation work.”

In explaining its position, the CSTA said it was “defending the need for strong intellectual property protection measures and the scientific method used to develop new technology for the seed industry so that farmers can benefit from continued access to leading technology.” – press release, 23/1/04

“Within the current Patent Act, we're saying there is no so-called farmer privilege to save seed,” said Bill Leask, executive vice-president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. “We don't think there should be.” He said the seed trade association believes seeds should be patentable. Canadian patent laws must offer at least the same intellectual property protections as laws in competitor countries or Canada will lose access to seed research investment and even the use of genetically modified seeds developed elsewhere. Leask said there is a real threat that a court ruling weakening patent protections would create an investor chill that would discourage seed companies from investing in or serving Canadian customers.

In Canada, public sector investment in seed research has become a fraction of the total compared to 20 years ago, when public spending accounted for up to 95 percent of seed research, he said. “The proportions have virtually flipped since then and if private investment pulled out, would public come back in the way it was? I think that is highly unlikely.” Leask said that if there is to be any change in patent rules for life forms, it should be made by Parliament after a debate, and not by judges on a point of law. – Western Producer, 5/2/04

“(Monsanto officials) may be high-living today, but they'll be regretting it tomorrow because if the patent follows the gene, so does the liability,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

 

#221: June 2004 TOC
Court Confusion: Brewster analyses the Supreme Court decision in the Monsanto-Schmeiser case
Organic Farmers (suing Monsanto and Bayer)
The diversity of your ecosystem
Privatization and the Public Domain -- the Seed Industry: a follow-up to Privatization and the Public Domain in RH #220: how the government listens to the seed industry at the expense of farmers and seed savers and breeders Venezuela ousts Monsanto: President Chavez curtails the growing of transgenic crops
Pepsi deal rejected by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc.
Privatization and the Public Domain -- Traditional Knowledge, by Dawn Morrison of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation
Food Miles -- a Toronto study Brazil's beef trade wrecks rainforest, according to the Center for International Forestry Research
Too much Canadian beef - increased production and decreased domestic consumption means reliance on export markets
Information Sources - look at www.LobbyWatch.org andwww.disinfopedia.org
Eat Your Salsa! - cilantro is credited with killing food poisioning bacteris
US residents are shrinking - research shows Europeans and others are growing taller while US residents are losing height, probably because of poor social programs.

 

Issue 222: July 2004

 A personal note

At the end of June, Brewster and I had a family reunion here at Left Fields (the 10-acre small-holding which we share with our daughter Rebecca and her husband Brian) to celebrate our 40 th wedding anniversary. We had been looking for an opportunity to gather family and friends from across the continent, to renew relationships and to get cousins together who had never met. It was also an excuse for a great party, feasting on a whole roasted lamb, fresh garden vegetables and salads, and Crannóg Ales (Brian and Rebecca's Certified Organic brewery) along with the champagne.

Brewster and I have never taken our anniversaries terribly seriously, in fact, we generally forget the date (it was May 20) until a week later. Using it as the reason for a celebration required me to give some thought to our relationship and why it is worth celebrating. After all, I don't think we have managed to stay together for forty years simply because of a lack of imagination!

We started out in the peace movement – that's how we met. Along with the student peace movement of the time, we soon realized that “there is no peace without justice” and, among other initiatives, helped create the Latin American Working Group to support the struggles underway in Central and South America. At the same time we were studying the situation at home, and our analysis of the internal colonization in Canada led us to the Maritimes where we spent 15 years farming and raising our two children.

Even though we ran a commercial sheep (and for ten years, cattle) farm, we never stopped organizing. My women's consciousness-raising group transformed into a Women's Centre and started a rape crisis line and a transition house for battered women. We both worked with the Sheep Producers Association of Nova Scotia, developed an annual Sheep Fair to raise the self-esteem, skills, and sense of community among sheep farmers, and eventually Brewster spearheaded a lamb marketing cooperative (Northumberlamb) which is still operating successfully.

It was the process of working with lamb marketing and realizing the forces arrayed against any effort of farmers to organize themselves and work together for high quality and fair prices, that led to the creation of The Ram's Horn. It has changed over the years, but its focus is still on exposing those forces as they have changed names and strategies. We still monitor corporate consolidation and other shenanigans but we now find ourselves increasingly also addressing the issues raised by genetic engineering of seeds and medicines.

The farmhouse in Nova Scotia had a large world map on the wall of the kitchen, reflecting our belief that we are part of a global community of resistance and struggle. Over the years that community has taken more solid form, as we have been invited to travel and meet some amazing organizers, some of whose work is reflected, from time to time, in The Ram's Horn.

It may be that this is the key to the fact that, unlike so many marriages of the 1960s, ours has survived these 40 years. We also have a lot of fun, not only working together but watching each other grow. For example, feminism – and the transformation in women's understanding of themselves, their capacities, and their power – was a fatal challenge to many relationships undertaken in a different paradigm. Brewster was always supportive, but it was not until he began to read the feminist critics of science, that he really understood what I was on about. Nowadays I am getting a great kick out of the process of Brewster becoming an elder, mentoring young people and at least to some extent gaining public recognition for his work. I am also very aware of his unwavering support for my work in food security.

I think we are extraordinarily privileged, not just because we live in a wealthy country and partake, willy-nilly, of the advantages that bestows. We have had the opportunity to spend our lives working for what we believe. And we have our friends and comrades all over the world – including our son Jamie and Rebecca – who support and inspire us, who broaden our vision and strengthen our commitment, to our work and, in a way, to each other.

We are profoundly thankful for all of this. – C.K.

For more about Crannóg Ales, Canada's only Certified Organic on-farm microbrewery and their wonderful Irish-style ales, seewww.crannogales.com.

To learn something of the inspiring work Jamie is involved in (along with his peace and social justice work) see www.miningwatch.ca MiningWatch Canada works with local and First Nations communities to monitor the activities of mining companies in Canada and Canadian companies overseas, and to help them protect themselves and their environment from the effects of these activities.

 

#221: July 2004 TOC
A Personal Note: Brewster and Cathleen celebrate 40 years of marriage and
common work
Picking on Cargill: updates on the activities of "the world's most
sophisticated corporate player in the global industrial food system"
ADM Settles Out of Court: the ingredients giant prefers to avoid a court case
More Food: OECD reports that production of food will soon exceed consumption
A Lamb Marketing "Commons": a different approach to a co-operative
Food Aid: the US approach is geared at market development, especially for GMOs
Health Effects of GM: Scandinavian researchers reveal that there has not
been adequate scientific study
Runaway Shop: Major US food processors head south
Banana Workers Strike: labour strife in Colombia


 

Issue 223: August 2004

 Safe Food?

 


“Canada has the safest food supply in the world.”
– any Government or industry spokesperson or publication
you care to mention

As a break from digging in the garden, we have been digging around to find Canada’s public food policy. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find one.

Despite the (underfunded) Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program and some excellent advocacy work by some local health authorities and community nutritionists, particularly in Ontario and BC, Health Canada does not insist on good food as basic health care. Agricultural
policy, insofar as there is any, is focussed on commodity production as raw material for processing and export, not on viable diversified farms feeding local populations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a food policy, but again, its emphasis is not on a healthy agriculture producing nutritious food for Canadians, but on safe food.

But what is safe food?

One clue might be found in the ritual of Hallowe’en: going around the neighbourhood dressed as some (preferably scary) monster or character created with the help of your mother, knocking on doors and saying “trick or treat”? Of course the neighbours were not supposed to recognize you and would try to guess who you were while doling out an apple, a homemade cookie or two, or even
some homemade fudge.

Then “safety” reared its ugly head, and the virus of mistrust was turned loose.


CHILDREN IN COSTUME - SCARY

It was not long before the apples disappeared, along with the cookies and fudge, to be replaced with store-bought specially packaged ‘Halloween treats’: miniature candy bars, separately and sanitarily wrapped candies and cookies. No more fresh goods of any kind. Of course, this meant that all this junk had to be purchased at a much higher cost than was incurred with home preparation. Curiously, the same transition took place with the costumes. No more homemade dragons and witches. Now the masks and plastic get-up is purchased
along with the ‘treats’ – and probably ‘made in China’. (Though we have to admit that a George Bush mask is truly scary.)


GEORGE BUSH MASK
- TRULY SCARY

The excuse for turning the event into another marketing opportunity was that there were malicious people out there who were bent on poisoning children or harming them by putting razor blades in the apples. A few such events were very widely publicized – and nobody wants to put children at risk. But we still can’t bring ourselves to believe that the lady on the corner who steadfastly made and gave out the most fabulous fudge year after year would suddenly start sticking needles into it.

People get worried about safety when trust begins to erode.

As the example of Hallowe’en shows, this loss of trust has been, at least in part, a consequence of no longer having neighbours, even if there are people living ‘next door.’ Neighbours are people you know, whose families you know, whose habits are familiar, and whom you see around ‘the neighbourhood.’ But what is ‘the neighbourhood’ now? How often do we even see the people ‘next door?’

It’s not just the loss of neighbours, however, but the transformation of neighbours into competitors and the nurturing of a culture of greed by the capitalist market economy where it is supposed to be every person for themselves.

Then there is the question of where our food comes from. Do we even know, other than that it comes from the supermarket? Chances are we don’t know who grew it or where, so trust is difficult. Nor do we know through whose hands it has passed, and what they might have on their mind, so the mistrust grows and spreads like a virus.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the transformation of Hallowe’en occurred along with the disappearance of the locally owned neighbourhood grocery store and its replacement by the anonymously-owned supermarket. The proprietors of the old grocery store got most of what they sold locally, be it meat or produce, and knew where it came from. They also knew their customers and might well extend credit when need be. The superstore displays idealized pictures of farmers but doesn’t buy from them; and it extends credit via credit card at 18% interest.

Clearly, food safety is not the issue, but rather a means of diverting public attention from the real issue: working and eating for corporate profit rather than for good health and a thriving neighbourhood, town or community.

Fortunately, not everyone is following the ‘lead’ of North America. Europe, it seems, retains some ‘old world’ values and customs. Peter Greenberg, managing director of Rabobank Canada (Holland-based Rabobank is one of the world’s major agricultural bankers) cautioned attendees at the World Meat Congress in Winnipeg in June against expecting different countries and cultures to share the North American view of food safety. “Science doesn’t become the sole determinant,” he said. Science-based standards may be a necessary condition for market access, but they won’t always be sufficient. “Trade negotiators have to be more able to recognize philosophical and cultural differences. (FIW 24/6/04)

Canada’s “not a food policy”

Canada does not seem to have a food policy; what Canada has is an industrial commodity production and export policy. This policy operates for the benefit of transnational corporations which control major segments of the Canadian industrial food system: beef and pork, flour milling, oilseed processing, livestock and poultry feed – virtually every major sector except wheat exports, which is still in the hands of the Canadian Wheat Board (despite misguided and opportunistic farmers and predatory
corporations).

In the food distribution sector two corporations dominate: Loblaw/Weston and Sobeys, with Loblaws (SuperStore, President’s Choice, etc.) in the controlling lead with about 38% of the market. Remember that the primary legal responsibility of corporations is maximization of returns to shareholders, not public health and well being, equitable distribution, or care of the environment.

Risk avoidance is thus a fundamental characteristic of capitalism in practice, if not in theory. As the current North American fetish of security is applied to the food system it encourages shelf-stable, preferably sterilized food, which in turn supports the centralization and concentration of the distribution system. Nutritional quality has had to be sacrificed so that what is called food can be processed, shipped and stored over great distances and long time periods, while, increasingly, synthetic nutrients are added
back in at the final stage of processing to compensate and for marketing purposes.

The current bureaucratic/political response to any problems with this system (eg. Avian Flu, see RH #222) appears to be further sterilization of the food system ostensibly to avoid the risk of disease. Of course this policy systematically increases the risk of disease.

A sensible health policy would call for highly decentralized, localized food systems based on healthy, living foods of great diversity that would nurture our immune systems to resist individualistic, genetically engineered, capitalist contamination.

Healthy food is not the same thing as ‘safe food.’ Indeed, ‘safe food’ is arguably not really either safe or healthy. In a highly centralized global food system with absurdly long supply lines, food is made ‘safe’ by being made as sterile as possible so that it can withstand the ravages of time, temperature and transportation, whether ‘fresh’ or processed and sealed in a tamper-proof package to ‘protect’ us from bio-terrorism. In fact this protects us from neither pesticide residues nor from the fact that the USA is the world’s #1 bio-terrorist with everything from GE contaminated food aid to botulism and anthrax factories developing Weapons of Mass Destruction. (For chilling details of US bio-warfare/terrorism activities, see www.
sunshine.org
)

In February, a five-year research project, called the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network was launched with the collaboration of 25 universities and research institutes. A key focus will be on the hypothesis that the rise in allergies could be directly linked to the way we live, in bacteria-free homes eating semi-sterile food. Children exposed to more infections in early life are less prone to allergies and children raised on farms are less likely than others to get hayfever, asthma and eczema.–
community.netdoktor.com/ccs/uk/ eczema/facts/news/

It is not as if we had no choice. There is an efficient and nutritious alternative that not only tastes better but also nurtures and strengthens both our communities and our immune systems: local food that has not been ‘killed’ or sterilized because it does not have to travel very far, does not require an eternal shelf life, and does not need to provide great profits to external parasites.

#223: August 2004 TOC
Safe Food? We look at the degradation of Hallowe'en into a commercial event as a sign of changes in the food system
Direct Action: mothers in Israel demand food from supermarkets
Supermarket Tantrums: The UK's Tesco chain is finding ways to amuse children while parents shop
Kraft cuts jobs: by the end of 2006 the food giant will have shed 6000 jobs
Moving Stuff: cheap imports from China
Whistle-Blowers: The model Health Canada employees would be the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys
The revolving door:
 Former AgCanada minister Vanclief has become (what else) a lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton; US trade negotiators go to work for Hill & Knowlton as well
You say tomato: changes in the fruit mean changes in processing, including home canning
Healthier tomatoes: research shows that more sustainable practices deliver better plants
Phonetic Modification: Monsanto insists a crop trial is not a crop trial
The tricks of Monsanto's monopoly: Syngenta takes Monsanto to court for shady business practices
USDA ordered to disclose test sites: the locations of GE pharmaceutical crop tests in Hawaii must be revealed
Irradiation nixed: New rules limit use of irradiated food in public programs to feed children
Cows can fly after all: Brewster is amazed that the Canadian Cattlemen's Association is calling for orderly marketing
Packers profit: Tyson, Cargill, and XL Foods made a mint in the wake of BSE
The need to eat: Haiti - a model of liberalism but can't feed its people
The need to eat: USA - a record $41.6 billion went to food aid programs within the US
Who needs 'golden rice'?: a betacarotene-rich banana commonly used as a weaning food could prevent blindness in children.


 

Issue 224: September 2004

 Open-Pollinated Corn

by Susan Hundertmark

While the hybrid corn on his farm might not make it this year because of the excessive rain and cold weather this summer, Victor Kucyk is looking at the silver lining. Some of the 100 varieties of open-pollinated corn he also grows will learn how to adapt to similar weather conditions and be able to thrive if a similar growing season happens again. “Open-pollinated corn remembers what happened to it. The silver lining is that it will pass the information on to the next generation,” he said at a recent tour of his operation by the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. “I can make five years' worth of progress in a poor year because it's easier to see the better corn. That's how nature is working with me.”

A former seed company employee, Kucyk began his own company after becoming intrigued by open-pollinated corn. “We have to thank the indigenous people who provided us with corn and rice. Without that, we'd be in trouble. This is 100 to 150-year-old corn but it goes back for millennia. It's been grown by indigenous people for millions of years. It's a living legacy from the past,” he said.

Kucyk is one of about a dozen people in North America trying to maintain and develop open-pollinated corn. “We've lost 90 per cent of the genetic diversity out there and we're doubling up here as a seed bank. We're trying to draw the best of the best of the different populations out there,” he said. He added that open-pollinated corn is more likely to have resistance to disease and be more adaptable to different weather conditions.

A higher sugar and nutrient content allows the plant to tolerate more stress.

Open-pollinated corn is not a crop for cash cropping since it will not match the yield of hybrid corn, said Kucyk. He recommended growing open-pollinated corn at 18,000 to 20,000 plants per acre, compared to the 25,000 per acre that hybrid corn can be grown. “This corn can tolerate a lot of weed population but it can't tolerate itself at too close quarters,” he said, adding that open-pollinated corn has larger leaves than hybrid corn. However, open-pollinated corn “is second to none for silage” because of its high mineral and protein content. “We're 10-20 per cent less for bushel yield but we're 10-20 per cent more in protein even with the yield differences.” he said. The protein content in open-pollinated corn is currently 12 to 13 per cent, compared to eight to nine per cent in hybrid corn, but Kucyk is attempting to raise the level to 20 per cent. This is “a monster number but it's achievable”.

“The way hybrid corn gets the yield up is at the expense of nutrition. That's why we're seeing a multi-billion dollar industry in nutritional supplements – because people are not getting it in the food.” And, because of the higher nutritional content, Kucyk said he has many anecdotal examples of farmers who have used less feed to gain greater results with their livestock. “One farmer I know was mixing feed for 28 cows, feeding 45 and still getting increased milk production, using open-pollinated corn,” he said. He also shared stories about egg producers whose hens laid larger eggs and goat farmers with increased milk production as much as 20 per cent using open-pollinated corn.

The downside of the high nutrient content is a pest problem since wildlife is more attracted to the high protein and sugar content in open-pollinated corn.

Unlike hybrid corn, open-pollinated corn cannot be patented and therefore, farmers can save the seed and replant it themselves, creating potential savings for themselves.“Farmers are being squeezed with rising energy prices and they're being asked to do more with less. Farmers are entitled to save their seed. I think we're going to see more farmers interested in open-pollinated corn. I would gladly show people how to select for seed. There's no catch to grow this corn – just a lot of hard work,” he said.

– reprinted with permission from Seaforth Huron Expositor 9/10/04 (slightly edited)

#224: September 2004 TOC
Open-Pollinated Corn: an article by Susan Hundertmark on the positive experience of an Ontario farmer with open-pollinated corn
Genetic Engineering not needed: a new wheat variety resistant to sawfly - and non GMO
Look what it costs to buy a lobbyist: $800,000 a year for the president of BIO
Loblaw: Canada's largest foods distributor
Eating At Home: a report on the Sorrento Gathering of the BC Food Systems Network
Moral Imperative?: two priests reject the Vatican's position that GMOs will feed the hungry
Organic Action Delayed: the court case of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate against Monsanto et al has been delayed again
Change of Heart: Prominent academic GM supporter has reconsidered the evidence
Cargill and Monsanto in Argentina: new strategies to control the soy production
One World. One Fry. - McCain's new slogan

 

Issue 225: November 2004

 Planting trees for peace

There is a row of glass jars on my shelf, displaying half-a-dozen very different varieties of bean seeds that I have selected to plant next year. It's a comfortable, familiar routine: planting seeds, nurturing the garden, harvesting and selecting the ones I want for the next year.

Planting a tree, on the other hand, is a bit intimidating. It's a long-term commitment. The vegetable garden is, after all, an annual event. When we lived on the farm in Nova Scotia, we always planned to plant an orchard, but we never quite got around to it. (We did try once, but the sheep destroyed the young trees.) When we left fifteen years later, we realized that the ash sapling which had sprouted from a stump in front of the house the year we arrived was now a substantial tree.

Even more than saving seeds and protecting their diversity, planting a tree is a statement of faith in the future. That is why, with the news of the US election fresh in my mind, I am so glad to see the Nobel prize awarded to an African woman who plants trees. – C.K.

On Oct 8th, Kenyan environmental activist and deputy environment minister Wangari Mathai, 64, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, honouring her decades of work leading the Green Belt Movement. The Movement's dual aim is to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking – an essential need in rural Africa. Members have planted over 30 million trees across the continent.

Mathai launched the movement in 1977 and from a tree nursery in her own back garden, the number of rural tree nurseries in Kenya has reached 5,000, providing employment and income to thousands of rural women. The following are excerpts from a 1998 speech by Wangari Mathai on “The Linkage Between Patenting of Life Forms, Genetic Engineering and Food Insecurity”

“Traders have appropriated other people's resources, including human ‘resources' and territories, as free goods for centuries, usually by buying-off misinformed, unsuspecting or corrupted nationals. Biotechnology and patenting of life forms is the new frontier for conquest, and Africa ought to be wary because a history of colonialism and exploitation is repeating itself. . . . Corporations are trying to appropriate life through the same rules which have governed the world of business and profits in the past. Industry has in fact already managed to gain private monopoly rights (patents) on some living materials by distorting the original concept and intention of patenting – as life is obviously not an invention.”

“If we thought that slavery and colonialism were gross violations of human rights, we have to wake up to what is awaiting us down the secretive road of biopiracy, patenting of life and genetic engineering. Genocide from hunger, such as we have not yet seen, becomes a haunting possibility.”

“Today, patenting of life forms and the genetic engineering which it stimulates is being justified on the grounds that it will benefit society, especially the poor, by providing better and more food and medicine. But in fact, by monopolising the ‘raw' biological materials, the development of other options is deliberately blocked. Farmers, therefore, become totally dependent on the corporations for seeds.”

“It is now widely accepted that food security for local communities means the capacity to access, develop and exchange seeds and to produce enough food for the households, only selling the surplus to the market. Likewise, national food security means the capacity for a country to produce enough seed and food for its citizens and only the surplus should be sold to the commodity markets abroad.”

The United Nations, the World Bank, GE Trees and Global Warming – Anne Petermann

Editors note: The Kyoto Protocol on climate change seemed like a fine idea when the Convention on Climate Change was formulated in 1992. The Protocol, providing the specific recommendations for limiting climate change, had enough signatures to become formalized in 1994. It required ratification, however, by a specific number of high-polluting countries and this was not achieved until Russia ratified the Protocol this month (5 November, 2004.) Canada and the USA have not ratified the treaty .

Over the past decade, however, more and more concern has been expressed about the adequacy or actual consequences of various provisions of the Protocol. Forests as carbon sinks, and the provision for high-polluting countries to acquire off-setting carbon sinks in the form of forests elsewhere in the world rather than actually cutting their emissions, is now being harshly criticized.

When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last December agreed that Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees could be used in carbon offset forestry plantations, forest protection advocates around the world came together to launch a campaign to demand the UN ban GE trees.

These forestry plantations are included in the Kyoto Protocol under loopholes called “Flexible Mechanisms.” These mechanisms include trading in carbon credits, as well as Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. The CDM allows for private corporations and Northern countries to invest in forestry plantations in developing countries and consequently receive credits for the carbon absorption from these projects.

The United Nations has been involved in the promotion of genetically engineered trees since at least 1990, when the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provided support to the Chinese Academy of Forestry to help them get started on research into genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees. The United Nations Development Project provided $1.8 million to fund the project.

This investment has paid off in the planting of 1.4 million GE hybrid poplar and GE Populus nigra trees in an uncontrolled experiment in China. The trees have been engineered for insect resistance. This means the trees produce the bacterial toxin Bt, and any insect, beneficial or pest, that uses the tree will die.

Now the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is teaming up with the World Bank's Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF) to magnify this disastrous experiment throughout the developing world. By approving GE trees for use in carbon offset forestry plantations, the UN has opened the door to World Bank funding for these plantations. The inevitable contamination of native forests with engineered pollen from GE tree plantations will have a host of negative impacts both for communities located in or near adjacent forests and for the wildlife of these forests. Even non-GE plantations have proven disastrous for nearby communities.

While the World Bank insists that its Prototype Carbon Fund was designed to help alleviate poverty and promote development, Ken Newcomb, Senior Manager of the World Bank's Carbon Finance Business reveals that the real motive for their involvement is to “reduce the risk for private investors.” The Prototype Carbon Fund's largest carbon offset forestry plantation project, called Plantar, is in Brazil. While not a GE tree plantation, Plantar has nonetheless come under fire from the Rural Workers Union and others from Minais Gerais, where the plantations are located.

Monoculture tree plantations are incredibly water intensive, stealing water needed by nearby communities for agriculture. Because the plantations are all the same species, they are extremely vulnerable to attacks by insects and disease. In China, it was infestations by insects in non-GE monoculture plantations that led them to implement insect-resistant GE trees. While this program is called “reforestation,” monoculture tree plantations are not forests. One look at the straight and silent rows of identical trees with no understory plants and very little wildlife confirms that industrial tree plantations have as much in common with forests as commercial corn fields.

"No Ground Vegetation": Photographs of GM trees in China (May 2003) by Dietrich Ewald, a German forestry scientist, are available at
www.bfh-waldsieversdorf.de/DRChina2004.htm

Additionally, evidence suggests that development of monoculture tree plantations actually contributes to global warming. A look at satellite maps from ten years ago compared to images today reveal a clear trend of plantations being developed where not long ago native forests stood. Add to this studies done by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the World Resources Institute that found that in tropical areas plantations at best sequester only 1/4 the carbon as native forests. In other words, conversion of native forests to plantations diminishes carbon sequestering potential. The addition of genetically engineered trees to the mix leads to forest health crises in the world's remaining native forests that will further exacerbate global warming.

In addition to insect resistance, trees are being genetically engineered for herbicide resistance, reduced lignin, faster growth and sterility. Experience with agricultural crops indicates that trees engineered for herbicide resistance will lead to increased applications of chemicals such as glyphosate on the land, causing water contamination, as well as toxic effects on wildlife and nearby human populations. [see Benbrook report p. 7]

Lignin protects trees, giving them rigidity. It is removed to make paper. Reducing lignin causes increased tree mortality from disease, insect infestation and animal browsing.Dead low-lignin trees also rot faster, releasing CO 2 more rapidly, contributing to global warming. Faster growing tree plantations cause rapid depletion of groundwater and desertification of soils resulting in the clearing of more native forests for new plantations.[. . . ]

Because of the potential for GE trees to contaminate native forests and increase forest conversion, they have no place in sustainable forest management practices that maintain healthy forest ecosystems. Additionally, because these plantations destroy the delicate balance of native forests and deplete ground water as well as potentially disbursing toxic pollen, they have the potential to devastate communities that are culturally and economically dependent on healthy native forests.

In sum, development of GE tree plantations cannot help abate global warming. Proposals by the UN and the World Bank for carbon offset forestry plantations– especially those that include GE trees– must be opposed.

– Anne Petermann is Co-Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project. To join the campaign, contact: info@globaljusticeecology.org<www.globaljusticeecology.org>

 

 

#225: November 2004 TOC
Planting trees for peace: : Kenyan Wangari Mathai wins the Nobel prize
The UN, the World Bank, GE trees & Global Warming, by Anne Petermann: monoculture plantations of GE trees are an environmental threat Old varieties prove their value: researchers find pest resistance naturally occurring
It's a wrap: Cargill creates biodegradable food packaging
The Giant gains visibility: Cargill is raising its profile as an ingredients supplier
A Cross-Canada Commitment to Food Security Policy: the national food security Assembly in Winnipeg launches a new organization
Blowin' in the wind - Creeping Bentgrass: the latest evidence of GE gene flow: 13 miles this time
Testing? What Testing?: a compilation study reveals negligible testing on the human effects of GMOs
More Pesticides Used on GM Crops: according to a new study by Dr. Charles
Benbrook in the USA

 

Issue 226: December 2004

 Upstream Ethics

 

We have written quite a bit in The Ram's Horn on the subject of biotechnology over the past few years. However, the experience of ‘debating' the subject with Monsanto's Canadian director of research at the National Food Security Assembly in Winnipeg prompted us to print the following summary of our approach. – Eds

This season, with its celebrations of life and light, reinforces a fundamental attitude of hope. Without being naive about the presence of evil powers and their destructive purposes, one can feel profound gratitude for the beauty, wonder, abundance and goodness of Creation – in contrast to the view that Nature is wild and deficient, in need of domination, control and exploitation. This pessimistic view sees the world as a place of darkness, despair and insecurity, a place filled with alien powers that must be vanquished.

It is this view which underlies the whole project of biotechnology/genetic engineering.

Assuming an attitude of gratitude, however, requires that we start a consideration of biotechnology, not with the downstream questions of human and environmental safety , or even with a litany of the promises of biotech, but with the upstream, or prior, ethical questions.

In the interest of brevity, I will not begin with the way upstream question, “What is the problem for which biotech is supposed to be the solution” (other than corporate patents and profits), but rather with a number of ethical issues raised by the process of genetic engineering – while recognizing that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency argues that it is only the product that matters, not the process by which it is achieved.

Ethical problem – not ‘dilemma'! – #1: Genetic engineering is an extreme expression of a reductionist culture that regards nature as alien, hostile, and in need of domination and control for purposes of exploitation and “improvement.” It is a utilitarian culture that speaks of ‘natural resources,' ‘human resources,' and ‘genetic resources' – and ‘value-added.' In other words, it recognizes no inherent value (or gift) in Creation and its creatures – including human.

Ethical problem #2: Biotechnology/genetic engineering is without respect for the integrity of the organism, for boundaries, whether at the cellular level or at the level of plant or animal – or at the level of ecology.

We can view genetic engineering as yet another expression of colonialism, from the colonization of the plant/planet with foreign troops and settlers to the colonization and deliberate contamination of the globe with transgenic organisms (GMOs) and plants. The most blatant geo-political examples currently are GMO food aid to Africa and the systematic contamination of every potential soybean growing area in South America .

Ethical problem #3: Genetic engineering is essentially violent, as is all colonialism; it is the deliberate violation of the integrity of the organism (or the state), carried out by deception or brute force, or both, to force the organism (or the state) to become or do something it would never do on its own.You will have no problem providing examples.

Traditional plant and animal breeding has always worked within the limits of what whole organisms were willing to do, with respect for boundaries.

 

Ethical problem #4: Biotechnology is an expression of a culture and economy that regards financial gain and competiveness as supreme values. There is, therefore, no reason to expect biotechnology to address issues of justice and equity, or social problems such as hunger.

Monsanto and Syngenta, like Cargill, my favourite (model) corporation, are not charitable organizations. Their job, their legal (fiduciary) responsibility, is to make money for their shareholders. It is not to feed the hungry. This being the case, it is reasonable to look carefully at their much vaunted “science.”

The ‘science' of biotechnology so far has been based on the simplistic and decidedly unscientific ‘Central Dogma' laid down (‘revealed' might be more accurate) fifty years ago: One Gene (creates) One Protein.

I remember being told and reading, countless times over the past two decades, that genetic engineering is precise and fast. Fast it may be, but since when is this a good thing except for those in pursuit of profit? And precise? It is not, never has been, and is anything but.

Which leads to my second problem with the science. To my mind, science, with a small ‘s', is about knowledge – not just information: it is disinterested enquiry into the nature of things. Biotech, on the other hand, is all about producing new products for the market – even if the market has to be created through massive advertising – not about respecting and understanding. (Whose idea was rBGH? Did the dairy farmers ask for it? Did the cows? Did the milk drinkers?)

Efficacy – does it work – has been the issue for crops and drugs, and not wanting to know has been a disturbing characteristic of corporations and regulators alike. It is not good science, not even “sound science,” to conduct research trials without controls, without noting (and publishing) what does not work, and what went wrong. (Or without labelling, in the case of GE foods.)

Science, with a capital ‘S', is about silencing the critics and the public, as Bruno Latour points out:

“This Science, capital S, is not a description of what scientists do... It is an ideology that never had any other use ... than to offer a substitute for public discussion... It has always been a political weapon to do away with the strenuous constraints of politics... Because it was intended as a weapon, this conception of Science ... has only one use: as the command, “Keep your mouth shut!” 
– Bruno Latour, Pandora's Hope, Harvard, 1999, 258

Ethical problem #5: The hubris of genetic engineering and the question of what we can know.

At this point it is necessary to compare the biotech industry to the drug industry. Consider the tragic story of Vioxx (see next page) as an illustration of what many of us see having its analogues in the transgenic crops and the processes and procedures of the biotech industry, from the lab to the regulators to the hapless victims.

“Had the company not valued sales over safety, a suitable trial [of Vioxx] could have been initiated rapidly at a a fraction of the cost of Merck's direct-to-consumer advertising campaign. ” – Topol, NEJM, 21/10/04

It is in this light that we should see the human and environmental concerns about the ‘safety' of biotech. (Who predicted that RR bentgrass pollen would travel 13 miles!)

So now we may consider the “way upstream” question: what is the problem for which biotech is supposed to be the solution? Biotech offers the productionist ‘promise' of more food because it wants to retain control. But in a world with enough food, increasing food production and corporate control is definitely not the solution. The problem of hunger is ethical and social. It is not technological but political. It is about learning to share, not to own, the abundance of Creation. A good place to start at Christmastime and the celebration of Gift: of life, of health, of good food.

#226: December 2004 TOC
Upstream Ethics: Brewster outlines our basic position on biotechnology
"No Right for Contamination" - a Finnish-led campaign against GM trees
With or Without Vioxx, Drug Ads Proliferate
Stop, Thief! - how can we allow patents on seeds -- or music -- or poetry -- which derives from common knowledge?
Note from a Saskatchewan farmer-subscriber
Direct Action, India Style - Indian farmers take a Monsanto manager hostage
Wasted Food - 40% - 50% of all food ready for harvest in the USA never gets eaten
Eating Technology:
                 (1) Florida biotech company proposes GM mouthwash
                 (2) US researchers try GM to halt mould on strawberries
                 (3) PEI salmon genetic engineers think it's just like tinkering with your car
Grocery Giant has Giant Profit: Wal-Mart sales on its second quarter were $69.7 billion
The Hokkaido Story Continues: Japanese authorities and farmers wrestle with GE crops
German GM Rules: new and prohibitively strict rules now govern GM in Germany

 

 

2003

Issue 214: September 2003

 Resisting Moral Blackmail


In a departure from our usual style, this issue is mainly devoted to one case study. Maybe it is a celebration of Cancun and the defeat of the US, the EU and the WTO at the hands of the Third World, or what some still call the ‘developing’ countries. In any case, we felt it is important to present the documentation, along with analysis, of the biotech industry’s propaganda campaign in Africa and around the world, trying to impress the public with its promise that biotech is the only way to feed the poor starving Africans. The focus is on Kenya, USAID, Monsanto, and an agent named Florence Wambugu. While we have been accumulating articles and reports about the biotech lobby and Wambugu for at least 8 years (some of which have appeared in previous issues of The Ram’s Horn), it was the arrival of the extensive, carefully researched article by Aaron diGrassi that suggested it was time to pull it all together to illustrate the propaganda strategy of the biotech industry.

Biotech advocates, whether in the university, the corporation or the government, just love to talk about ‘science.’ They make no claims for truthfulness, which is not recognized as a ‘scientific’ concept. The conclusion: approach everything you hear about the benefits and promises of biotech with suspicion, and do your utmost to resist the moral blackmail about feeding the hungry.

“Kenya is always a
focal point of practically everything!
We are used to being used like tennis balls.
But with the grace of God, we
continue to survive!”
– Jesse Mugambi,
Nairobi, Kenya

Monsanto and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) must have invested an awful lot of money in Florence Wambugu by now. They’ve been financing her career as a biotech agent since 1991 when she went to work in Monsanto’s St. Louis research centre on sweet potatoes. The intent was to engineer a virus-resistant sweet potato that would solve all of Africa’s food problems. At least that is the impression one gets from the hype year after year. Once that was accomplished, she was to go back to Africa and take the ‘technology’ with her (so-called ‘technology transfer’).
– source: Colin Peel of Degussa Corp. in Journal of Animal Science, 6/96

In recent weeks Canada has been treated to slick presentations of Dr. Wambugu by the biotech promoters to the press and other gullible audiences, such as the National Research Council. A black African woman in colourful traditional dress delivering a sermon on feeding the hungry of Africa is a real show stopper. And the right-wing press love it. They don’t bother to ask about the sources of the sensational numbers she throws about, they don’t ask to see the research studies to back up her claims for biotechnology or the world of African farmers that she paints in simplistic terms. They don’t ask who is paying her way around the world. Perhaps they just don’t want to appear impolite, even if truth is the victim.

When Florence Wambugu finished her three-year internship with Monsanto and went back to Kenya, she set up the AfriCentre of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a US-based, foundation and industry backed biotech promotion and ‘technology transfer’agency. Since then, Wambugu and the ISAAA have spun off a number of innocuously named pro-biotech fronts, such as the African Biotechnology Stakeholders’ Forum (ABSF), the African Biotechnology Trust, and AfricaBio – Biotech Stake-holders Association (Muffy Koch, editor). In January, 2002, Wambugu established her own A Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International. Her website,<www.ahbfi.org>, gives the intended impression that farmers are actually growing her GM virus-resistant sweet potato with these words: “the GM sweet potato, which later became the first GM crop in sub-Saharan Africa. . .” The deGrassi study below reveals that this is far from the truth.

“It should never escape our minds that proponents of GM foods are often agents of multinational corporations who have everything to gain from acceptance and wide distribution of GM foods. They are pro-business. Opponents of GM foods do not seem to have anything to lose in terms of profit because they are not in any alternative business. In my opinion, when those who have nothing to gain from their arguments speak, we should listen carefully.

“A reason that is currently advanced by GM foods advocates is that these will reduce poverty and hunger in poor developing countries. Given the reality of hunger and the consequent death and malnutrition in many parts of the world, this reason could easily turn anybody emotional and irrational. But the premise on which this reason is based is shaky. The major cause of poverty and hunger in the world is not lack of food. Speaking for Africa and for Kenya in particular, I can say with certainty that there is enough food for all Kenyans in the country. But the distribution of the means to acquire food and the actual distribution of what is already available is poor. In the absence of appropriate policies on food distribution, Kenyans in one part of the country experience hunger while in another part, food is rotting in granaries for lack of demand! It is often that we have farmers in Kenya going on strike refusing to sell their food at throwaway prices. This is where to look for people who are genuinely interested in the real needs of the ‘poor.’

“It is a noble cause to feed the hungry. But to use this to advocate for products whose safety has not been determined beyond reasonable doubt is unethical. In my culture, we say that one does not look into the mouth of a goat that has been given free of charge. This is to say that one should appreciate what has been given as a free gift. But this does not mean that one should eat a sick goat just because it is given free. Indeed, it is public ‘looking into the mouth of the goat’ that was prohibited. In privacy, one has to scrutinize any ‘goat’ before eating it.” – 17/5/03


The most unrestrained endorsation of biotech we’ve seen – rivalling even Dennis Avery & Son or C.S. Prakash or Doug Powell – comes from Toronto Globe & Mail columnist Margaret Wente (5/7/03), who appears to have indulged in magic mushrooms while writing:

“When Florence Wambugu lectured at the University of Toronto last week there was a security guard on hand, just in case. Sometimes demonstrators show up when she speaks. To them, this stately, eloquent Kenyan woman has a dangerous message. Dr. Wambugu is among the world’s pioneers of bioengineered crops. She is both a scientist and an activist, and her message is that genetically modified foods are essential to help save Africa.

“Dr. Wambugu has spent years developing a virus-resistant sweet potato that could spectacularly increase yields for subsistence farmers. No one knows better what a difference that could make. As the sixth of 10 children, she grew up on a subsistence farm herself. Sometimes, the family had only sweet potatoes to eat. Sometimes they went hungry. Her mother sold the family cow so that she could go away to high school. ‘I wasn’t even supposed to be educated,’ she says with a laugh. ‘My mother had to go to a tribal tribunal to get permission. I was a girl who was just supposed to be married, and that was it.’

“Today, with a doctorate in biotechnology, Dr. Wambugu devotes her life to sustainable food production in Africa. ‘Sub-Saharan Africa is practising organic farming and the result is poverty and hunger,’ she argues. ‘Without science, we’ll never have enough.’ . . . Bioengineered crops can be made immune to insects and devastating diseases such as the maize streak virus, which the World Bank calls one of the most difficult and devastating diseases afflicting Africa’s food supply. They are also weed-resistant, which means that women can be liberated from the slavery of weeding. The crops are also far more productive. Dr. Wambugu’s modified sweet potato, for example, can increase yields from four tonnes per hectare to 10 tonnes. In some instances, biotechnology can triple rural farm incomes.

“Dr. Wambugu sees biotech as the great equalizer – for women, for the illiterate, for the most disadvantaged. ‘Many farmers here cannot read or write,’ she says. ‘But they know seeds. We can give them technology that is packaged in the seed.’ And, because most food is eaten where it’s produced, GM crops empower people at the very bottom. . . . Dr. Wambugu, who has three grown children, is now the CEO of a Nairobi-based foundation called A Harvest Biotech, which is focussed on providing developing nations with the new technologies. She is committed to a grassroots, co-operative approach whose goal is to make people self-reliant. . . Watch her. This is one woman who is changing the world.”

“Dr. Florence Wambugu, one of the 15 people most likely to change the world according to Forbes Magazine, will give a special scientific lecture on the ‘Potential and Demonstrated Impacts of Biotechnology in Africa,’ at the National Research Council in Ottawa. Dr. Wambugu’s talk . . . is part of a visit to Canada to raise support for the use of biotechnology as a farming tool to fight hunger in Africa.”
– 16/9/03 press release, source unclear


“Growing up with hunger and poverty all around her, Florence Wambugu tried to protect her family’s crops from pests and disease. Today, the renowned Kenya-born scientist continues that work on behalf of a continent. Dr. Wambugu is a strong proponent of using biotechnology as a farming tool to help fight starvation in Africa, where 5,000 people die from a lack of food every day. Considered one of the world’s foremost experts on agri-biotechnology, she believes the development of genetically modified (GM) crops – immune to insects and disease – is key to winning the battle.

“‘I am not a GM crusader; I am a crusader for Africa,’ Wambugu said yesterday . . . after speaking at the CropLife Canada Conference [the lobby organization of the agrotoxin/biotech industry]. . . Wambugu told a packed meeting room that Canada has a vital role to play in developing African agriculture’s move to more GM crops. ‘Canada can take a look at Africa as an emerging market,’ she said. ‘We need Canada’s help. . . contributing science, building partnerships, training our people to produce our own food over the long term.’” –Jason Bell, Winnipeg Free Press, 16/9/03

“Florence Wambugu . . . has become an influential advocate for the biotechnology industry. After her work with Monsanto and KARI, she headed ISAAA’s Africa office, before establishing her own A Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International . . . ISAAA has created a Knowledge Center in Kenya with the primary purpose to ‘facilitate a knowledge-based, better informed public debate.’ The group has also spun off a number of innocuously named pro-biotech NGOs, such as the African Biotechnology Stakeholders’ Forum and African Biotechnology Trust. Pro-biotech Western aid agencies have joined with these organizations to quietly conduct one-sided conferences at up-scale venues around the continent, such as Kenya’s Windsor Golf and Country Club, aimed to swing high-level officials in favour of GM.” – Aaron deGrassi, TWN Africa (see page 4)

I have been reading quite a bit of Dr. Florence Wambugu’s opinions in our local dailies but have not had the chance to speak to her although she is Kenyan and actually from my home province. I would really like to understand the background from which she so strongly supports GMOs after which perhaps I would be justified to respond in whichever way. Since I have not got this opportunity as yet, I feel the need to restrain myself but I just have to respond however briefly.
Having grown up in almost similar circumstances as Dr. Wambugu in terms of wants, and currently living in a rural town in Kenya, I wholly agree with her that there is hunger in Africa. I also concur with her that this has gender dimensions. But I do not agree that GMOs is the solution. On the contrary, I find this direction very dangerous to take as it will lead to more hunger. It is precisely the very control of food production and ownership that leads to hunger in Africa. On the international level, poor trade relations and lack of balance of trade is the source of Africa’s hunger: Raw materials from poor countries fetch very low at the international markets and the international markets are not competitive but largely oligopolistic. On the national level, too few extremely rich people control food production and ownership in Africa amidst abject poverty and hungry millions. At the family level, from a gender perspective, men control the means of production and ownership of food although they do not contribute labour towards actual production. For me, redistribution of control of means of production and ownership of food is the gravitational issue around which controlling hunger in Africa revolves. Promoting GMOs will leave control and ownership of food in even fewer hands!
Unfortunately for Africa, due to many years of colonialism and neo-colonialism (and now globalization), many of us are not confident with ourselves. We, consciously or unconsciously have little dignity left in us. This leads to a state in which we are often willing to ‘sell’ our own people in exchange for ‘tokenism’ and ‘breadcrumbs falling from the master’s table’. I am not saying this is what Dr. Wambugu is doing. As I have already observed, I do not understand where she is coming from adequately enough to criticize her. I am simply expressing my opinion versus hers.

An important thing to note is that we cannot underestimate our peoples’ (Africans) understanding of reality with regard to GMOs. They may not be aware of the technical terms used but they do well understand the implications of GMOs. If we were to let them speak for themselves, we would be wiser! – 16/7/03

Excerpts from Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, by Aaron deGrassi, 6/03. Available with all 435 references from Third World Network – Africa at
<www.twnafrica.org/docs/GMCropsAfrica.pdf>

In this paper deGrassi evaluates the ‘appropriateness’ of GM cotton, sweet potatoes, and maize using six criteria which are substantially more fundamental and comprehensive than the usual simplistic industry/government criteria of ‘productivity’ and ‘safety’:
• demand led,
• site specific,
• poverty focussed,
• cost effective,
• institutionally sustainable, and
• environmentally sustainable.

“Virus-resistant sweet potatoes are not demand driven, site specific, poverty focussed, cost effective, or institutionally sustainable. The environmental sustainability of modified sweet potatoes is ambiguous, but not great.

“Bt cotton scores low on criteria of demand drive, site specificity, and institutional sustainability. It has ambiguous poverty focus and cost effectiveness. Environmental sustainability is currently moderate, but could potentially be moderate to strong.

“For Bt maize, the analysis shows low demand drive, cost-effectiveness, and institutional sustainability. It is too early too detect unambiguous site specificity or poverty focus. Environmental sustainability is currently low to moderate, but could potentially be raised.


The Portuguese brought sweet potatoes from South America to Africa several hundred years ago, and it has subsequently been adopted and adapted by farmers, primarily in eastern and central Africa. Sweet potatoes engineered with a gene coding for resistance to Sweet Potato Feathery Mottle Virus (SPFMV) are perhaps the most widely cited example of the benefits that genetic engineering holds for African farmers. Kenyan scientist turned advocate Florence Wambugu has publicized the project widely, touring the world, including Canada, and her name and ‘story’ has been placed in numerous pro-biotech editorials in professional as well as popular journals and newspapers. The project has garnered enormous publicity, and some rather fantastic claims have been made.

“Sweet Potato Feather Mottle Virus (SPFMV) does not cause significant problems on its own, but when it combines with another potato virus – Sweet Potato Chlorotic Stunt Virus (SPCSV) – it forms the damaging Sweet Potato Viral Disease (SPVD), which can reduce a plant’s yield by up to 80%. The plant becomes stunted, with distorted veins and leaves. However, SPVD, although a nuisance in some cases, is not a primary constraint on sweet potato production, nor is it a significant cause of food insecurity, let alone famine. SPFMV is only one relatively small factor among many problems that constrain production.

“The sweet potato project began in 1991 as the idea of three American men: Ernest Jaworski and Robert Horsch at Monsanto, and Joel Cohen at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The sweet potato was one of the first crops to receive significant work involving genetic modification. C.S. Prakash, a prominent and lively pro-biotech figure in current debates, began his foray into agricultural biotechnology by attempting to transfer Bt into sweet potato in order to provide resistance against weevils. . . .

“The three Americans recruited a Kenyan scientist, Florence Wambugu, who had recently finished her PhD thesis in England on sweet potatoes. USAID funded a three-year post-doctoral position for Wambugu at Monsanto in St. Louis. Wambugu and two additional American men decided to focus on SPFMV. They would attempt to protect against the virus by inserting a coat protein gene from a clone of the American SPFMV strain rc, which they obtained from Dr. Jim Moyer at North Carolina State University. Monsanto, with facilitation and financial support from USAID, worked with Kenyan scientists from the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), who travelled to Monsanto’s laboratories in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Wambugu claims that she chose to research SPFMV because the crop ‘is a major staple. It is always there in the backyard if there is nothing else to eat. My mother grew it. I know it.’ Without much empirical support, she claimed, ‘there was a well-defined need to generate resistance to the virus.’ However, at that point, no studies had been made measuring the incidence of SPFMV in any of the countries in Eastern Africa. Nor had farmers’ organizations identified the disease as a central priority.

“Those were the American pressures, but what about African demands? If the researchers had consulted with farmers, they would have found that many farmers were already using varieties resistant to both SPFMV and SPVD. In a survey of seven districts in Uganda and Tanzania, for instance, 75% of farmers said they had access to virus-resistant landraces. A popular local variety, New Kawogo, is actually both SPVD resistant and high yielding. Other varieties, while not completely resistant, can recover strongly from SPVD. Unfortunately, neither KARI nor Monsanto have made any efforts to explore the possibility of promoting local resistant varieties through farmer-to-farmer exchanges. . .

“Since 1982, four major World Bank projects totalling almost $60 million have attempted to make the Kenyan agriculture and research system function to help poor farmers; they have largely failed. A recent review by the Operations Evaluation Department of the World Bank is scathing: ‘The Kenyan system lacks a focus on farmer empowerment. It is based on a traditional top-down supply-driven approach that provides little or no voice to the farmer … Inappropriate incentives and the failure to incorporate mechanisms to give farmers a voice have led to a lack of accountability and responsiveness to farmers’ needs. This is evident in the mismatch between what farmers want (advice on complex practices) and what they get (simple agronomic messages) … The system as implemented has been ineffective, inefficient, and unsustainable.’

“Eleven years on, the Monsanto-KARI project resulted in modifying only a single Kenyan variety of sweet potato (the CPT-560 line), out of an original eight lines attempted. The CPT-560 line was described as “not the most popular variety,” by Dr. Gichabe, Director of KARI’s biotechnology program. In contrast, there are over 89 different species of sweet potato grown in East Africa alone. Four-year field trials began in August of 2000 in several districts. Whereas some speculated a modified variety could be released by early 2002, it now looks unlikely before 2008. . . The most recent account, published in January 2003, makes no mention of state of the trials. KARI researchers have refused to state how the trials, now in their third year, have performed.

“At the level of allocating research funds, an examination of the time, money, and human resources spent on the GM sweet potato project shows very low cost effectiveness, particularly compared with conventional breeding. Total spending on the 25-year project is estimated at nearly $6 million. . . It thus appears the focus on genetic engineering in the sweet potato project has diverted time, money and attention from other important avenues of research. A narrow focus on genetic modification means researchers ignore other productive scientific opportunities and hence do not make the most effective use of scarce research resources.


“Having shown that the three GM crops analyzed above are inappropriate for poverty alleviation, the large amount of publicity they have garnered is attributable to carefully crafted and well – financed media campaigns by GM advocates. . . . Politicians have latched on to biotechnology to illustrate their otherwise absent commitment to the poor. Academics have found another fad. Corporations try to sell their products. Scientists have projects that need funding. The result of this unjustified publicity is muted debate and diminished capacity to select and develop appropriate science and technologies for poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa.

“To crack open lucrative markets worldwide, biotechnology corporations are seeking public legitimacy for genetically engineered crops by turning their PR machines upon small farmers in Africa. Industry-funded groups are increasingly using Africans to misinform publics in both industrialized and developing nations.
. . .

 

Issue 217: December 2003/January 2004

 

Like water flowing downhill, consolidation and concentration
naturally flow to corruption
.

For more now than 23 years we have reported on the corruption and decline of both cooperatives (with sadness) and capitalism. In fact, The Ram’s Horn was initiated in 1980 to explain to fellow sheep farmers who had taken over their organization and why – i.e., to protect and further personal advantage and gain at the expense of the collective. Unfortunately, we have had, over the years, to document the decline and perversion of even the biggest cooperatives as they have sought to play the capitalist game of cancerous growth. In this issue, with the bankruptcy of Parmalat and Solutia, the corruption and greed of neo-liberal capitalism is starkly revealed. At the bottom of both corporations are farmers – sometimes as willing and more often as abused accomplices.

Note: €1 = $C1.62 C$1=€.61

 “turning out to be one of the biggest corporate scandals in history”

“One of Europe’s biggest corporate crises exploded last week when Parmalat’s new management team said a document had been declared false by Bank of America which purported to certify that €3.95 billion of securities and cash were held by Bonlat Financing Corp, a Cayman Islands unit of Parmalat. . . The missing €4 billion dwarfs a €1 billion accounting scandal at Dutch retailer Ahold and drew comparisons with the collapse of energy giant
Enron” – NYT, 23/12/03

Parmalat is one of Canada’s Big Three dairy processors – Saputo of Montreal and Agropur co-op are the other two. Parmalat Canada is only one of 200 subsidiaries of Parmalat, based in Collecchio, near the north-central Italian city of Parma. Italy’s eighth-largest industrial group, Parmalat had €7.6 billion (C$12.95 billion) in revenues last year from selling juice, milk and cookies in 30 countries from South America to Asia.

On Dec.19 Bank of America Corp. reported that it wasn’t holding the US$4.9 billion in Parmalat funds that the company had reported in September. Now Italian reports say a total of around US$12 billion could be missing from Parmalat accounts after what may have been 15 years of false accounting. Another €2.9 billion of Parmalat bonds had never been bought back by the firm, despite statements to the contrary on its balance sheet.

Parmalat’s Canada website says, “Our tradition of quality began in Parma, Italy in 1961. Calisto Tanzi founded Parmalat with the hope of building a solid local business to support his family. But in time, Parmalat has become much more than that. With a continued commitment to quality and innovation, Parmalat has become an international company with increasing sales year after year. Parmalat is the world’s leading producer of UHT shelf stable milk.

“Today, Parmalat is one of the largest food companies in Canada. In fact, millions of Canadians enjoy our products every day. Trusted brands like Beatrice, Lactantia, Astro, and BlackDiamond are all part of the Parmalat family. Not to mention Balderson, Cheestrings, Sargento, Olivina, Parkay and Colonial too. Which means Canadians can enjoy everything from our milk and dairy products, to fruit juices, cultured products, cheese products, table spreads and cookies. All with the highest standards of quality demanded for your family.”
www.parmalat.ca 27/12/03 (The latest press release posted on their Canadian website is dated May 23, 2003.)

 

“Italian magistrates believe they have uncovered a decade of systematic fraud at food giant Parmalat and have placed group founder Calisto Tanzi firmly at the center of a complex web of deceit. Eleven days into their probe, the magistrates say they have plotted a pattern of market rigging, false auditing, fraud and misappropriation of funds involving current and former top managers. They also accuse two executives of the Italian unit of the Grant Thornton group auditing company of having helped set up off-shore subsidiaries to hide balance sheet irregularities. Tanzi admitted on Monday that he had misappropriated company funds and falsified company accounts. Grant Thornton has denied any wrongdoing and says it was a victim of fraud. . .

“Besides creating fictitious cash flow, Tanzi also embezzled large sums of money, the two teams of magistrates say. ‘He diverted about 800 million ($1 billion) to himself and companies that were not part of the group ... and ordered the destruction of accounting documentation ... that proved the group’s financial troubles,’ the Parma magistrates’ report says. . . They added that Parmalat managers hid losses of more than seven billion euros to enable the company to return to the market for fresh funds. The group now has debts between 10 billion and 13 billion, the magistrates say.” – NYT (Reuters) 30/12/03

For a few years before 2001 the big names in dairy in Canada had been Beatrice, Dairyworld/Dairyland and Ault. Then all of a sudden the names and owners changed. Dairyworld became Agrifoods International and was then bought by Saputo, Agropur expanded outside Quebec and Beatrice and Ault were acquired by Parmalat. Overnight Parmalat became Canada’s largest dairy group with annual
revenues in the range of $1.9 billion. [see RH#150, July 1997, RH #187, Jan 2001]

Now no one wants to talk about the state of the Canadian dairy industry – and ‘industry’ it is when it is in the hands of global corporations whose sole interest is in making money for its shareholders or, in the case of Parmalat, its top executives/owners.

Of course, one does have to wonder about the rationality of the dairy farmers’ organizations in Canada that allowed – or more likely encouraged – such consolidation to take place. It was probably all done in the name of efficiency and competitiveness, but that does not mean it was in the interest of the farmers, the public, or ‘food security.’

Parmalat had a market capitalization of 1.8 billion before the crisis broke. But since then the value of its shares has been almost completely wiped out and its bonds are worth just a quarter of their face value. Investigators say the total missing could exceed 10 billion euros. They say they do not know yet where the money went or even if it ever existed, making it hard to put a value on the firm. Parmalat buys eight percent of Italy’s milk output and milk producers have not been paid by Parmalat since August.
– source: NYT 23/12/03

 

“Parmalat engaged in a tangled scheme involving dozens of offshore front companies to invent assets to offset perhaps as much as $11 billion in liabilities over more than a decade, Italian investigators said. The seeds of Parmalat’s downfall appear to have been sown at the end of the 1980’s, when the company was preparing to sell shares to the public for the first time. . . . Calisto Tanzi had taken his family business in hams and preserves, and over several decades turned it into a global milk and food powerhouse. . . The Tanzi family [which still holds 51 percent of Parmalat] was looking to cash in some of this remarkable growth.


“Parmalat started creating finance companies in the Netherlands Antilles, essentially to get rid of liabilities it then offset, at least on paper, with assets it simply invented. . . The Parmalat group, including the offshore finance companies, was audited at the time by the accounting firm Grant Thornton. In the mid-1990’s, Italy began a sweeping overhaul of its financial system that required Italian companies to rotate their auditors every nine years. So in 1999, Parmalat brought in Deloitte & Touche to replace Grant Thornton. Before doing so, however, Parmalat effectively closed the Antilles-based companies, replacing them with Bonlat Financing, which was registered in the Cayman Islands. And while Deloitte assumed responsibility for the Parmalat group, the auditing of Bonlat remained in the hands of Grant Thornton. Parmalat, in information for investors, described Bonlat as a “treasury center.” But people close to the investigation called it a “garbage can,” where Parmalat parked all kinds of liabilities accrued at subsidiaries around the world.”
– NYT/Agence France-Press, 24/12/03

UC Berkeley officials confirmed in December that tenure had been denied to assistant professor Ignacio Chapela, who teaches microbial ecology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Chapela and grad student David Quist were the whistle-blowers over their finding that native maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico, were contaminated with g.e. transgenes. It is now widely accepted that this is indeed true. (Just ask Monsanto about their contamination campaign!)

Chapela and Quist were also leading critics of the 1998 deal that gave Novartis (now Syngenta) privileged access to UC plant research in exchange for $25 million. The five-year agreement gave Novartis first rights to a certain percentage of patents from the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and two seats on the five member committee that awarded research projects.

The prestigious journal Nature, which had first published Quist and Chapela’s findings in 2001 and then recanted (repented of its sins) in an editorial, published a surprisingly detailed report by Rex Dalton on Chapela’s tenure denial in its December 11th issue:

“Chapela’s tenure at Berkeley has been under review since November, 2000. As part of the process, in his department, 32 faculty members voted for tenure and one against, with three abstentions. And in summer, 2002, an ad hoc committee of five colleagues familiar with Chapela’s field voted unanimously in favour of tenure.

“But the review then took an unusual course. The chair of the ad hoc committee was quizzed by the university hierarchy about his committee’s report and its membership; questions were raised about whether two members were biased. The chair, whose identity has not been released, then resigned in the autumn of 2002, disavowing his committee ’s report. But committee members weren’t told this had occurred. . . [One] tenured professor in Chapela’s department [who was on the ad hoc committee] only learned of what happened to the report of the committee he had served on in June [of 2003].

“Documents from the chancellor’s office [state that] ‘The overall assessment of reviewers was that Chapela’s good record of teaching and excellent service stood in sharp contrast to a disappointingly modest publications record’ says the document rejecting tenure.”

According to documents obtained through access to information by Bradford Duplisea of the Canadian Health Coalition, Agriculture Canada invested nearly $2.5 million in genetically modified wheat and stands to make money if it approves the product for sale. The government department:

  • committed $850,000 to Monsanto to develop GM seeds;
  • provided unfettered access to test the crops in the
    department’s fields;
  • assigned thee key scientists to work with Monsanto on
    the wheat.

If the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approves the grain for sale, Agriculture Canada will get nearly five per cent of the money. But John Cully, the department’s director of intellectual property, said there is no conflict of interest, that it’s common for governments to have research partnerships. – source: CBC online, 29/11/03


The University of California at Davis Plant Science Facilities recently celebrated the completion of a complex of new buildings that includes state-of-the-art greenhouses, a plant-science teaching facility, the High Throughput Genomics Facility and the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Plant Transformation Facility, new laboratories that contain state-of-the-art equipment for DNA sequencing and genetically modifying plants, and the Plant Reproduction Biology building that houses the Seed Biotechnology Center. The UC Davis press release (11/11/03) refers to “the partners involved with the projects” and acknowledged “seed industry leaders who supported the early vision of completing such a facility.”

 

Issue 215: October 2003

 Re-defining Conventional

 

How does an exception become the norm? How does an alternative become the conventional, the norm compared to which everything else is abnormal?

Conventional agriculture did not include GE crops until very recently. Conventional agriculture was, however, assumed to use agro-toxins. But 50 years ago conventional agriculture did not use agro-toxins in the contemporary sense of the term. So in something like 50 years the definition of conventional – the norm – has changed three times. Organic agriculture, or even sustainable or ecological agriculture, is generally considered as alternative. Yet the way people farmed until 50 years ago or so – the conventional agriculture – was essentially what we now class as ‘organic'.

Defining normal and abnormal – or conventional and alternative – has always been a power play. It is part of such concepts as ‘mental illness' and ‘enemy'. Consider how I can treat you if I define myself as normal and define you as abnormal particularly if you allow me to do so.

Organic/ecological agriculture is not abnormal. Nor is it ‘alternative' unless you accept industrial agriculture and GE crops as normal and conventional. It would be better to describe different practices – and different attitudes.

The advocates and apologists of biotechnology and GE crops like to think that they are the moral norm, that they define and represent conventional agriculture. From this standpoint they can then tout the issue as ‘consumer choice' – which they are happy to offer in their rather dishonest way: the public must have the option of purchasing GE food. If the vast majority (the norm) does not want GE food, then farmer's choice comes into play: you have no right to deny farmers the option of growing GE crops.

GE crops become ‘conventional', and organic and GE-free crops and food products become, by definition (theirs), a niche market – similar to the peculiar food preferences of minority religions. It is quite appropriate for them to be hard to find and to cost more, since they are the exception to the rule. If organic and GE-free have to be labelled so customers can exercise their choice, the purchasers will have to pay for the labelling to make that choice possible.

In other words, the freedom to choose is appropriated by the (abnormal) biotech industry (government-industry-university) that is insisting on its freedom to choose to produce GE crops and foods regardless of the will of the (normal) majority.

“We want the producer to have the option,” said Nelson Costa, superintendent of Brazil's Paraná state Organization of Cooperatives (Ocepar). “If the market wants a non-GM product, it should pay a premium for it.” – Reuters 7/10/03

“When consumers wish to make their own choices consistent with their philosophical beliefs – choosing halal, kosher, or GMO-free – they should be prepared to absorb the extra costs. Consumers who want ‘organic' foods pay a premium for the privilege. So should consumers who want GMO-free food.” – Peter Phillips and Robert Wolfe, letters, G&M, 2/9/03. Phillips holds the chair in managing knowledge-based agri-food development at the University of Saskatchewan and sits on the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee. Wolfe is a professor of geography at Queen's University

One of my favourite and most instructive scientists is Richard Strohman, emeritus professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology (see p.6) . In a commentary published in Nature a couple of years ago he wrote, “I prefer the identification GEO (genetically engineered organism) to GMO (genetically modified organism) to make clear that we are talking about an engineering project and not some modification that is substantially equivalent to what happens in nature.”

“Identity Preservation” is promoted by corporate buyers as a way to ‘add value' to farmers' crops for the benefit of farmers, buyers and end-users, such as bakeries or specialty oils users. But it is also a means of shifting the burden of proof regarding GE contamination of crops from the corporations responsible onto the farmers. Farmers are to become liable for segregation and ‘purity' of the crops they grow and market.

 

 

Issue 216: November 2003

 Suspicion and

the evaluation of ‘information'

In the era of big-pharma, big-food, and big-media, it is a real challenge to find reliable sources of information. One has to start with what theologians call the hermeneutics of suspicion, that is, a method of interpretation [hermeneutics] informed by suspicion – suspicion about the authorship, intent, and authenticity of the text.

Source and authorship are the first things I look for. Was the article or report published by the New York Times, the Vancouver Sun or theNational Post? New Scientist, Nature Biotechnology or Milling and Baking News? In other words, what is the nature of the source? Is it a reliable, conservative journal ‘of record' such as the NY Times or M&B News with a known business bias or an inflammatory paper like the National Post orVancouver Sun with a blatant reactionary political position? Readers ofThe Ram's Horn will recognize our carefulness to note sources.

Authorship is obviously significant. I no longer bother to read anything authored or endorsed by Dennis Avery, Henry I. Miller, Gregory Conko, C.S. Prakash, Doug Powell and many other blatant propagandists unless I want to know their current line, such as that of Avery&Son who operate as the Centre for Global Food Issues of the Hudson Institute. Their latest mystification is an “Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly Seal of Approval” project which they describe as “the only science-based seal of approval which supports both farm economics and protects the environment without added costs to consumers.” This is clearly intended to confuse the public about organic certification. Note that they give no specifics about being “scientifically proven” and “economically sustainable” – though they might be referring to the massive subsidies that keep industrial agriculture in the USA afloat.

Introducing a new certification process and seal of approval for dairy producers and processors. This product is certified as having been produced under the best available, scientifically proven and economically sustainable agricultural methods. These techniques have been shown to help conserve or use fewer natural resources, thereby preserving more of nature and earning the approval of independent scientists including Nobel Prize winners. Purchasing products with this seal supports farmers while protecting nature. Brought to you by The Center for Global Food Issues, this is the only science-based deal of approval which supports both farm economics and protects the environment without added costs to consumers. Endorsed by recognized world leaders in the fields of animal agriculture, veterinary health, conservation and environmental stewardship and backed by published peer-reviewed data. (www.cgfi.org)

A close look at their website will confirm your suspicions; they are supporting Monsanto's fight against the labelling of rBGH-free milk in the USA (see RH# 212) and their ‘scientific' advisors are a convenient list of the big-food and biotech front groups whose ‘information' warrants suspicion: organizations such as the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy and the American Council on Science and Health. The names are, of course, intentionally deceptive, but after a while you get to know them and the names of their chief lobbyists.

The language on the Avery website is more than deceptive. Its intent and tone can best be described as ‘hate' language. Clearly the Averys are scared to death of organics and a well-informed public – just like the biotech industry they represent.

Authenticity implies that the author has some personal connection or experience of the issue discussed. Where material is ‘authored' by an organization that operates as a collective, such as ETC Group and GRAIN, you have to know that the organization works in respectful collaboration with the people affected by the issues and policies they write about. It is this kind of track record that gives credibility to authors, both individual and collective.

The above discussion was prompted by information recently published about Wal-Mart. A major source drawn on here is the Executive Intelligence Review, a text-book example of where suspicion is warranted. The Executive Intelligence Review is published by the Lyndon LaRouche organization, a right-wing populist organization that actually does a considerable amount of solid research. As Al Krebs (The Agribusiness Examiner, see www.electricarrow.com/CARP) describes LaRouche, it's a case not of a straight line continuum between left and right, but a horseshoe, where the populist right comes close to the socialist left in its anti-corporate position. Recognizing this, we are happy to draw on this source of verifiable data while omitting some of its more bombastic language and interpretation. (It also helps when the New York Times and the Financial Times of London , not known for their populist or anti-corporate politics, essentially confirms the LaRouche data as the NYTimes did in the editorial cited below.)

Wal-Mart's financial security
is not your food security

Wal-Mart posted sales of $245 billion in 2002, holding the position of the world's biggest company for the second consecutive year. It has more than doubled its size in the past five years, increasing sales at an annual rate of 16 %.

As of August 31, 2003, Wal-Mart had 1,489 Wal-Mart stores, 1,397 Supercenters, 532 Sam's Clubs and 56 Neighborhood Markets in the United States. Wal-Mart employs about 1.1 million “associates” nationally at an annual wage of about $14,000 a year, below the US $15,060 poverty line for a family of three.

As the New York Times put it in an editorial (15/11/03):

“Wal-Mart is a non-union, low-wage employer aggressively moving into the grocery business. Everyone should be concerned about this fight. It is, at bottom, about the ability of retail workers to earn wages that keep their families out of poverty. . . Wal-Mart's prices are about 14% lower than other groceries' because the company is aggressive about squeezing costs, including labor costs. Its workers earn a third less than unionized grocery workers, and pay for much of their [own] health insurance. Wal-Mart uses hardball tactics to ward off unions. Since 1995, the government has issued at least 60 complaints alleging illegal anti-union activities. . . Wal-Mart may also be driving down costs by using undocumented immigrants. Last month, federal agents raided Wal-Marts in 21 states. Wal-Mart is facing a grand jury investigation, and a civil racketeering class-action filed by cleaners who say they were underpaid when working for contractors hired by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart insists that it was unaware of its contractors' practices. But aware or not, it may have helped to deprive legally employable janitors of jobs and adequate pay. This Wal-Martization of the work force, to which other low-cost, low-pay stores also contribute, threatens to push many Americans into poverty. . .”

Wal-Mart Is Not a Business,
It's an Economic Disease

Wal-Mart is “a driving force behind the decadent Imperial Roman model of the United States. Unable any longer to reproduce its own population's existence through its own physical economy, the United States has, for the past two decades, used an over-valued dollar to suck in physical goods from around the globe for its survival. Wal-Mart is both the public face and working sinews of that policy. It brings in cheap pants from Bangladesh, cheap shirts from China, cheap food from Mexico . . . and workers who produce these things are paid next to nothing.”

Wal-Mart

  • sells 19% of all grocery-store food in the United States, making it the largest food seller.
  • handles 16% of all pharmacy-drug sales in the United States,
  • controls 30% of the U.S. household staples market
  • sells 15-20% of all CDs, videos, and DVDs in the United States

Reciprocally, Wal-Mart controls a large and increasing share of the business done by almost every major consumer-products company: 28.3% of Dial's (soap products); 24% of Del Monte Foods'; 23% of Clorox's (bleaches and cleaners); and 23% of Revlon's (cosmetics). It controls one-fifth or more of the business done by Proctor & Gamble, Levi Strauss and Newell Rubbermaid. This gives Wal-Mart tremendous leverage over all its producers/suppliers, even though many of them are in the Fortune 500. Today, Wal-Mart “co-determines” the price of the goods it buys; it tells the supplier what type of product it wants, how to arrange its inventory, what sort of product line to develop. Because Wal-Mart determines how much shelf space each supplier receives, it has life-and-death control over that supplier. If Wal-Mart says that it wants a product's price to be lowered by 20-25%, that supplier will be forced to outsource an increasing share of its production.

As a result, Wal-Mart has become “a conveyor belt, either directly or through its suppliers, for imported goods, mostly from cheap-labor countries. Wal-Mart imports 10% of all America's total imports from China.”

Rubbermaid, the largest producer of consumer rubber products in the United States, provides a good example what happens when a company is dependent on Wal-Mart as its major market. In January 2001, Joseph Galli was appointed the new chief executive officer of Rubbermaid, and he and his staff had an intensive series of meetings with Wal-Mart management on what products Rubbermaid should bring on line, including Wal-Mart's not-so-subtle suggestions about the price of the products. Since January 2001, Rubbermaid has shut down 69 out of its 400 facilities, and fired 11,000 workers

Levi Strauss is one of the biggest manufacturers of jeans and denim products, including the line of Docker slacks, and Wal-Mart is its biggest retailer. During the past 18 months, Levi Strauss has announced it will shut down its four remaining production plants in North America and shift the work to Latin America and Asia. –source: Executive Intelligence Review, 14/11/03, at www.larouchepub.com/eirtoc/2003/eirtoc_3044.html

Levi Strauss, a company that 22 years ago had 60 clothing plants in the United States – and that was known as one of the most socially responsible corporations on the planet – will, by 2004, not make any clothes at all. It will just import them.

Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: “We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world – yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions.”
–The Wal-Mart You Don't know,” FastCompany, Issue 77 December 2003, By: Charles Fishman –www.fastcompany.com/magazine/77/walmart.html

 

2002

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Issue 199: March 2002 Boundaries and the Integrity of Organisms

Hugh Brody's provocative and thoughtful study The Other Side of Eden has got me thinking a lot about boundaries and the ethical premise of respect for the integrity of organisms. Brody's thesis is that there are (or were) two basic streams of human history, what he calls the hunter-gatherer and the farmer-herder histories. Contradicting received wisdom, Brody sees the hunter-gatherers as the ones who stay put, depending as they do on intimate knowledge of the (admittedly frequently very large) landscape they inhabit. He sees the relationship of hunter-gatherer societies to their environments as one of respect for all inhabitants of their world, human and non-human, and, I would add, an acknowledgement that there is life, and there is death which is very much a part of life.

The farmer-herder history, on the other hand, is one of constant movement (think of the waves of migrations across Europe, not to mention the Americas, in search of new land). One can argue that this demonstrates a fundamental dissatisfaction with things-as they-are. Its contemporary incarnation also seems to be based on the assumption that the human purpose is to gain control of life, nature and other people. I extend this pursuit of control to the control, ultimately, of death itself.

Death is unacceptable inasmuch as it signifies the loss of control. This attitude finds its extreme expression in the ability to administer death without apparent harm to oneself - as in the high altitude bombing of Afghanistan and Kosovo, on the one hand, and in the practice of genetic engineering on the other. The extreme of industrial food production expresses the same attitude with its massive and systematic application of agrotoxins to kill everything except the chosen crop.

Such a polarization distorts reality, of course, but it may also help us discern essentially different attitudes that we must choose between.

One can express the difference of attitudes in terms of the reluctance to intervene, on the one hand, and an eagerness to intervene on the other. The 'hunter-gatherer' culture severely limits interventions into the natural order of the world in which it lives, while the 'farmer-herder' culture regards interventions into the natural order - which is seen as disorder - as the basis of its activities with the ultimate purpose of gaining control.

Intervention implies transgression, that is, some crossing of a boundary (or border), and that is the issue. Boundaries, of course, can take many forms, from 'city limits' and the boundaries of parks and 'public' spaces to state and national borders. Borders can be based on easily identified and respected natural topographical features such as rivers and coastlines, or they may be violently imposed and maintained such as the border between North and South Korea.

There are, as well, crucial boundaries that have nothing to do with political jurisdictions, such as the borders of organisms, ecologies and cultures. While these boundaries may be traditional and unmapped, they can nevertheless be violated, as is happening around the world in the drive to find and extract oil or genetic 'resources.'

A culture that bases its ethics and social structures on respect for the integrity of the organism will cross, or violate, the boundary of the organism only with fear and trembling. A culture that values control above all will, of course, not hesitate to violate any boundary at all in pursuit of control (and usually behind that, profit).

A society rooted in respect for the organism - human and non-human - is immediately faced with the question of where the boundary of the organism is, or what it looks like, or how much space, without apparent boundary, the organism requires for its integrity, its living. This is not a simple question, of course, and it can only be answered considerately.

I recall the time it took for my family and me to understand the behaviour of a man who spent a summer with us on our farm. Peter was tall and fair, and he was born in Canada of 'white' parents. But gradually we came to realize that Peter was, in fact, Japanese, having gone to school and grown up in Japan. Peter's sense of appropriate space - the space he gave others even when we were all together in our small kitchen, and the space he seemed to occupy - was a reflection of a densely populated society which recognized the need for psychic space even when physical space was very limited. It was a recognition that the integrity of a person requires space - and a boundary - beyond that of their own skin or reach that is respected by others.

This cannot be limited to humans, however. Respect for the organism recognizes a diverse and dynamic ecology of human and non-human participants (residents) that, when healthy, is in balance. Every organism has the space, and the recognized boundaries, that it requires to live - and die. Boundaries are prerequisite, not limitations, to the health of the organism.

A society or culture in which control is considered the paramount goal does not recognize or accept such boundaries. Control requires the violation of boundaries and consequently the violation of the integrity of the organism.

The absence of respect for boundaries and the integrity of the organism is a characteristic of reductionism, in which the whole is considered as no more than the sum of its parts which are subject to ever greater fractionation or reduction. Thus an organism can be reduced to its bodily parts, then to tissues and organs, then to molecules and atoms, proteins and DNA. Nothing is sacred. The search for ever-smaller parts of the organism as the only 'truth' precludes recognition of any boundary. It diminishes societies and ecologies as nothing more than valueless aggregates and thereby denies any concept of public or social good.

In the reductionist culture, the organism exists as an ever diminishing dot in the cross hairs. In a culture that recognizes and respects boundaries, the organism exists at the crossing, and the space of this organism is bounded by the large circle. The pattern is repeated, with overlaps, to create a society or ecology. In this image, boundaries are permeable, but none the less real and essential. espect for the organism requires respect for all its boundaries.

The reductionist culture of industrial society and agriculture recognizes boundaries only as impediments to be overcome or destroyed. Monocultures of corn, soy and cotton require the elimination not only of individual organisms, but of whole populations of whatever is designated as pest, and just as the boundaries of other organisms are violated in order to eliminate them, fence rows are eliminated so fields can be expanded and consolidated. But the fence rows - and the wetlands that are filled - also bound the habitats of seen and unseen creatures that are consequently eliminated.

The destruction of boundaries and violation of the integrity of the organisms - of the corn, cotton, soybeans themselves - has proceeded with the arranged marriages of hybridization and mutation breeding and now with the shotgun weddings of genetic engineering where alien DNA is inserted quite literally with a shot gun that violates the most intimate of boundaries. While this goes on, national boundaries are breached and violated in the name of free trade through the agency of the World Trade Organization. Imperialism is not new, of course, but never has it proceeded simultaneously on fronts big and small, from the global to the molecular.

 

 

2001

Issue 192: July 2001

Food and Drugs:
The Construction of Dependency

by Brewster Kneen

It has been the Ram’s Horn editorial policy to stick fairly closely to our original food/justice agenda – which was first focussed on sheep farming 20 years ago, hence the name. In recent years we have had to give biotech far more attention than we enjoy, but we hold the biotech/drug industry responsible for this. They set out to conquer nature, including us, and we feel, like any good weed, that we have no choice but to resist.

We have, in the past, described industrial agriculture as the construction of dependency. The same can be said for ‘2modern’ medicine. In more recent years it has become, more deliberately I am sure, a process of creating addiction. Addiction requires a fix, and those in a position to deliver the fix can reap handsome profits, or as they say these days, shareholder value.

So now we find our original agenda stretched as we try both to adhere to it and to adapt to our changing environment. We know we have a dedicated and influential readership that has followed us as we were pushed by the likes of Cargill into analyzing trade and corporate control and by Monsanto into developing a critique of genetic engineering. Now we ask you to travel with us a road that was first paved with pesticides and now carries human drugs, xenotransplants, gene therapy and other increasingly costly and esoteric technology for the control and ‘improvement’ of life for the elite.

With corporate consolidation and concentration, it is no longer possible to draw a line – if it ever was – between food biotech (GE crops), drugs for human consumption, genetic screening and gene therapy, and reproductive manipulation. If PPL Therapeutics is genetically engineering pigs with human genes to produce spare parts for human use (xeno-transplantation) what is going to happen to the pork? It’s more likely to enter the meat trade – in one form or another – than the garbage dump or incinerator.

With what the biotech/drug pushers are pleased to call "neutraceuticals," or crops and animals engineered into drug factories, the line disappears altogether, just as it does with genetic screening and selection and the production of carefully selected and ‘improved’ embryos, including human.

Let us first consider what is misleadingly called ‘conventional’ agriculture in North America. The crops it grows have been designed to respond to artificial stimuli (synthetic fertilizers) and to require ‘protection’ (by means of pesticides) from what would, under more normal circumstances, be their natural environment. Lacking a ‘home’, they become, by design, addicted.

The export model of this approach to food production was the Green Revolution. The short-strawed, high-response hybrid rice that was the vehicle of this cultural invasion was dependent on irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. The formerly self-sufficient farmer in turn became dependent on the suppliers of the international aid which enabled him [sic] to purchase seeds, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. The victim was hooked, in other words, by means of ostensible ‘aid’ programs. Such programs, not inadvertently, also displaced women farmers from their traditional lands and practices, such as seed selection, conservation and sharing in favour of men who were assumed to be ‘head of the household’ and who were in any event more amenable to the new ‘technologies.’

When the condition of dependency was sufficiently established, including the restructuring of the farm and food economy, the aid programs were cut off, abandoning the farmers to either become dependent on credit to maintain the addiction of their crops or to attempt to return to their now-demolished traditional self-sufficiency and crop diversity. Suicide by drinking pesticides has been a far too common expression of the despair at being unable to provide for their families either way.

The introduction of genetically engineered crops is simply the latest chapter in this history of colonization.

Like all drug addictions, including tobacco, the addictions of industrial agriculture have been exploited to amass individual and corporate fortunes. These, in turn, have been gathered into ever more powerful drug cartels. Now they manufacture and dispense patented drugs for their patented engineered crops and their farmers and the general public. Diseases requiring drug treatment are created as readily as herbicide tolerant crops. Turning PMS (premenstrual syndrome) into PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) is a fine example.

Eli Lilly is now promoting the drug Sarafem, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat PMDD, which the company describes as a mental illness. But Serafem isn’t a new drug, it is simply repackaged Prozac. Prozac had $2.6 billion in sales last year, but Eli Lilly’s patent on the drug runs out in August. With Sarafem, the firm now has a separate patent to cover use of the drug for PMDD through 2007, allowing it to partially offset losses in sales, which could be as high as one billion dollars in the first 12 months following the introduction of generic competition. So doctors will soon be able to prescribe a cheaper generic version of Prozac for their patients while women seeking Serafem will pay a premium. Lilly has spent close to $2.3 billion in marketing and administrative costs for Serafem, much more than the research and development, which is about $1.5 billion.
— CBS MarketWatch, 7/3/01; WSJ, 23/2/01

Issue 193: Consolidation

From the amount of space and energy we have devoted to biotechnology and the attempts to reconstruct life one might almost think that corporate consolidaation in the food industry was an accomplished fact no longer worthy of report. Not so. The noose of corporate control continues to tighten, and we promise to continue to demystify that process, so as to counter the fatalism that economists, policy makers and government-corporate apologists seek to induce.

co-ops coopted
For example: Once upon a time there were farmer-owned cooperative grain companies in all over the Canadian west. Now the last vestige of this co-op movement is about to disappear.

The founding of Territorial Grain Growers Association 100 years ago in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, is regarded by many as the birth of the prairie co-operative movement. United Grain Growers Co-operative (UGG) was founded in 1906 and the Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta Pools in 1923-24.

UGG lost its co-operative status when it restructured itself into a corporation with public shareholders in 1992. This allowed UGG to wipe out a $22 million debt by simply turning its undistributed patronage dividends into common shares. It was a fairly logical move, given the fact that UGG has long been a strident proponent of the ‘free-market’ and opponent of the Canadian Wheat Board. It was equally logical, then, for UGG to sell 45% of itself to Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in 1997.

Saskatchewan Wheat Pool went capitalist when it restructured and began trading shares in 1996. That left Manitoba Pool Elevators and Alberta Wheat Pool as actual co-ops, and they merged in mid-1998 to form Agricore after failing in a hostile bid to take over UGG in 1997 before ADM moved in. Agricore remained a farmer-owned co-operative; Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, meanwhile, dug itself into a debt trap pursuing the corporate-fashon-of-the-day, expanding and diversifying into everything from donut shops (Robins Donuts) to a grain terminal in Poland (for which they had to write off $80 million).

Now Agricore is planning to merge with United Grain Growers to form Agricore United, which will require Agricore’s member equity to be converted to shares in the new company. If the present farmer-owners of Agricore keep the shares they receive, they will own about 55% of the new company, while UGG will own 45%. Agricore United directors are to consist of 6 from Agricore, 6 from UGG and two from Archer Daniels Midland. ADM will have only a 19% share in the new company, but there are provisions in the deal that will allow ADM to gradually increase its holding to 45% within twenty years. In other words, farewell to the farmer-owned co-op.

Brian Hayward, chief executive officer of UGG, is to become c.e.o. of the new company while Gordon Cummings, c.e.o. of Agricore, will retire and take a well-earned rest after a distinguished career of killing off some of the major farm co-ops in the country. Cummings worked with the consulting firm of Ernst & Young before becoming president of National Sea Products in 1984 to 1989. In 1992 he moved on to manage, as president and c.e.o., the break-up of United Cooperatives of Ontario and finally to Agricore in 1995.

Mayo Schmidt, c.e..o. of Sask Pool, made the interesting comment that "we’re in an industry that is challenged and we need to see consolidation so that the industry can get healthy again. . . Consolidation means [elevator and terminal] closures, closures mean opportunities for others." To which "others" might he be referring? Such a comment could well indicate that Schmidt’s game plan is to sell Sask Pool to Cargill, the only major grain company operating in Canada that has not participated in the fool’s rush to build excessively large and too many massive inland grain ‘terminals’. Instead, Cargill has followed a policy of managing, on contract, some of the new inland terminals built by farmers – a fee-for-service arrangement which gives Cargill the decision-making power while using other people’s capital.

As for the farmers who stand to lose in the face of corporate oligopoly, they were not consulted. Agricore farmer delegate Ken Sigurdson commented, "We as delegates have never promoted, asked for or even entertained any of these kind of suggestions to privatize the company. . . This is totally a board and management decision." A membership vote on the merger is to take place in Calgary on August 30th.

Peace River, Alberta, farmer Art Macklin pointed out that co-operatives were founded to provide service at cost so farmers could make a living on their farms. A publicly traded company, on the other hand, has to make a profit which goes to its shareholders in the form of dividends. Trading shares on the stock exchange is not the most obvious way to pass the dividends on to the farmers responsible for them.
— sources include WP, 2& 9/8/01, MC, 2/8/01

meat concentrate
Corporate consolidation has been particularly evident in the meat business. I follow it through Meat & Poultry, the primary trade journal of the North American meat trade. For 22 years M&P has been publishing an annual listing of the Top 100 meat companies. This year the Top 100 has become the Top 50. "The decision to consolidate the ranking to the Top 50 was made to better reflect the major changes that have taken place in the industry. . . The consolidation is not going to stop either. . . Cargill is rumored to be on the prowl, and how long will it be before the brass at Smithfield Foods [the dominant pork processor] make both cows and pigs fly?"asks editor Keith Nunes.

In fact, Cargill’s beef subsidiary, Excel Corp., has agreed to purchase Emmpack Foods Inc of Milwaukee. Emmpack, #29 in Meat & Poultry’s listing and a producer of ‘value-added meat products’, "will broaden the array of customer solutions we can provide," said Bill Brucker, president of Excel.

This does not mean that the other 50 companies are out of business (though some of them are); rather, that the smaller companies have been pushed to the margins.

The figures: sales ($billions, latest fiscal year)
1. ConAgra Foods 20
2. IBP Inc. 17 (includes Lakeside Packers, Brooks, Alberta)
3. Cargill Inc (Excel) 10 (includes Cargill Foods, High River, Alberta)
4. Tyson Foods 7.1
5. Smithfield Foods 5.1 (includes Schneider Corp. sales in Canada of $1.3 billion)
.....
12. Maple Leaf Meats 1.6
.....
16. Olymel 0.8
— M & P, 7/01

This consolidation has had a devastating effect on the labour force. At one time the local meatpacker was paying the top wage for unskilled labour. Workers’ purchasing power steadily increased until 1980. UFCW’s (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) base wage in the US was $10.69/hour in 1982, the year many unionized companies started pressing for reduction in base wages to $8.25, the rate offered in non-union plants. "The decline coincides with consolidation in the industry and the breakdown of unions," accordingly to Azzeddine Azzam, an ag economist at the University of Nebraska. In the early 1980s, half the workers in the meatpacking industry were union members, and most belonged to UFCW. By 1987, union membership fell to 21% of the workforce, where it remains. Packers today thrive on paying low wages, and the savings are showing up in record profits and huge salaries for executives.

IBP was established in 1961 as Iowa Beef Packers. It is now in the process of being taken over by Tyson Foods. Tyson broke the trail to lower employee wages with its development of the disassembly line concept while it simultaneously resisted all unionizing efforts. "In terms of real purchasing power, the hourly wage is really not any different than what people used to make 50 years ago," says Azzam. — from a story in M&P, 6/01

A Higher Profile – and more leverage
– for Parmalat

The world’s largest dairy company and the largest distributor of milk in Canada, based in Italy, is going to make sure that Canadians know who owns their food system – at least a big chunk of the dairy – by putting the Parmalat name on their Beatrice and Sealtest milk, Astro yoghurt, Lactantia butter and Balderson and Black Diamond cheese. "By building a national profile with the Parmalat brand, we can leverage our global strengths and provide increased marketing effectiveness," said Parmalat Canada president Mike Rosicki. (Ontario Farmer, 31/7/01) Translation from the Italian: We intend to use our global clout to play our suppliers off against each other for the benefit of our corporate profits. Canadian farmers take note.

At about the same time, The National Dairy Council, which has represented the dairy processing sector since 1917, announced that it was ceasing operations. "You can’t present yourself as a national organization, representing the sector, if you represent only half of the milk that’s processed and none of those [processors] are the foreign-based multinationals," commented Kempton Matte, who had been president of NDC since 1980. (OF, 14/7/01) In other words, Parmalat withdrew its membership and thereby destroyed the organization. The fact that the "foreign-based multinational" is not named would appear to be a reflection of the ability of TNCs to intimidate, particularly a newspaper which might be hoping to gain advertising revenue from the nameless corporation as it "builds national profile".

Canada’s largest dairy processor (as opposed to Parmalat, the largest milk distributor), Saputo Inc of Montreal, has formed a partnership between its Culinar subsidiary and Dare Foods. Dare is to get Culinar’s line of cookies, specialty bread and soups while Saputo gets a 21% interest in Dare, a private company and Canada’s second largest producer of crackers and cookies behind Nabisco.
—M&BNews, 24/7/01

Issue 194: September 2001

Conscientious Objection

by Brewster Kneen

Nearly 40 years ago we were engaged in the resistance to the American war against the people of Vietnam. Cathleen was a Canadian when we met in 1964. I was a U.S. citizen (I almost wrote "American") and at that time a full-time peace movement new-left activist travelling for the Fellowship of Reconciliation from campus to campus counselling conscientious objection to the U.S. war machine and helping to organize public demonstrations.

I had already been on active duty in the U.S. Navy for two years after graduation from university, but even before I graduated, my visit to Havana, Cuba (before the revolution), on a required summer "midshipman" training cruise had had a profound effect on me: witnessing the degradation of the Cuban people living literally across the street from appalling American tourist wealth made me realize that the real mission of the U.S. military was to protect American wealth and privilege from those from whom it had been stolen. (Forty-five years later we see biopiracy and patents performing the same function.)

At the same time, my religious convictions were taking the form of a radical Christian faith that placed far more emphasis on social justice and peace than on "salvation" and conformity with the dominant culture. The Jesus I came to recognize was the person who accepted abuse rather than administering it, who took violence upon himself rather than inflicting it upon others. By the time I had finished my two years of post-graduation active duty in the U.S.Navy (on "non-combatant" - i.e., no guns - ships), what I had seen in Korea and elsewhere reinforced my Cuban insights and I realized that I could no longer recognize the military as having any claim on my life.

The fact that American flag-waving nationalism has remained so entrenched in the face of the obvious absence of equity and justice in the land has something to do, I think, with the fundamentalism of the culture of the United States, the notion that "Americans" are the Chosen People of God with a divine mission and hence divine license to do as they see fit to further their global hegemony.

It was with that outlook that I began my theological studies and peace activism. Along the way the justice "portfolio" grew in importance as I came to understand, along with many others, that economic justice and equity are essential to peace.

Forty years later, with genetic engineering and the "invention" and patenting of life upon us, it seems to me that we need to revive conscientious objection as a legitimate, indeed essential, personal-social response. In the bellicose aftermath of the bombing, not of "America," but of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon (symbols to the rest of the world of what America really stands for) it is even more imperative to refuse and resist, to stand for peace and justice.

When George W. Bush proclaims with unbelieveable stony-faced arrogance that "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," where does that leave all the decent people who have some idea of how much terror, death and destruction the U.S. has inflicted on others over the past 40 years?

On grounds of conscience, with a willingness to accept the consequence of convictions, it is the season to take the side of life, not of death and its administrators.

"Death . . . is an integral aspect of life. A plant dies back once it has gone to seed, that is, given its life over to the next generation. Death is 'overcome' precisely when it is taken up into life and accepted as the final act of being alive. This is a widely held religious perspective. The monoculture of industrial agriculture and, indeed, western culture and science as a whole, is built on a radically different attitude toward life and death, with its practice of administering death to 'others'- defined as 'weeds' or perhaps as 'defective' - so that an elite may survive."
-Farmageddon, p.10


from Cathleen:
I have grown up in a world defined from the outset by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a world in which the phrase "American Imperialism" has been a prime definition of political reality. America's bland certainty that America is the definition of democracy and freedom, while America feels quite free to engage in the most horrific violence against people who have been dehumanized by the labels 'gook', 'jap', 'terrorist' etc., has given me nightmares all of my life. At the same time, I know that 'America' does not define Americans, who I know as honest caring people struggling for justice for the poor and carrying a vision of communities in which everyone has all the necessities of life, including not only food and shelter but also art, music, and joy.

I think just about everyone in North America feels the pain and horror of the human suffering in New York and Washington. We are all grieving. But the US government is taking that grief and warping it into a self-righteous vengeance which should be dubbed 'Operation Infinite Hubris'. It takes courage to confront and counter this powerful and apparently unanimous attitude.

I deeply believe that only when we are honest about the causes of injustice, poverty and hunger will our efforts to build real community be successful.

The immediate effect of the events of September 11th has been an obsession with 'security'. Prime Minister Chrétien speaks of 'securing the perimeter'.

We do not want to live in a "gated" community!

If there is going to be a perimeter fence to 'protect' our borders, then let's be consistent and also recognize and respect the borders of all organisms and ecosystems. If we are going to monitor and limit the movements of persons, this must include corporate 'persons' - and capital itself. Or, to put it the other way round: if capital and corporations are to be granted the privileges of global citizenship, then real people must as well.

Speaking of Hubris:
Imagine the ancient Celtic hammer throw where a burly oatmeal-nourished Scotsman, kilt furling in the breeze, with two hands on the handle of a long-handled mall, begins to turn in a circle to swing the 'hammer' slowly off the ground. When the hammer is up circling around his head and he is good and ready, he lets go.

Now imagine Monsanto in the centre, swinging patent offices, government regulators, and the entire wheat industry.

Are we so accustomed now to corporate domination that we do not even notice, much less resist, Monsanto's unilateral setting of the agenda, whether in regard to wheat, patents, or farmers' rights?

It has recently come to light that Monsanto has received a patent in the U.S.A. on herbicide tank mixtures and premixes used to control glyphosate-resistant volunteers in all current and future Roundup Ready crops.

The patent covers herbicide mixtures applied "in any order or simultaneously" that use glyphosate together with any combination of five named active ingredients of non-glyphosate herbicides to control weeds on glyphosate-resistant crops. (Glyphosate is the generic name for Monsanto's Roundup.) The patent goes so far as to include glyphosate-resistant weeds and any crops that one day might be bred "naturally to be glyphosate resistant." In other words, as more and more crops and weeds develop resistance to Roundup, the broader will be the patent's coverage.

Monsanto spokeswoman Trish Jordan said the company has been working on a solution to Roundup Ready volunteers - as in canola - and the patent is simply to protect their research. Of course the problem for which Monsanto has obtained the patented 'solution' is a problem patented in the first place by Monsanto, i.e. create and patent a problem, then patent a solution to the patented problem.

As we have pointed out before, the very process of genetic engineering is violent: remove an organism from its environment (community) and force it by means of inserting a foreign piece of DNA (torture) to do something it would never have done on its own. But of course this has been developed within the paradigm of industrial agriculture which is itself violent: pick one crop plant that you want and kill every other organism around ("weeds" and "pests"). Now there are glyphosate-resistant weeds and Bt-resistant insects all over the place - not to mention the spread of Roundup-Ready canola to farms where it is unwelcome. The parallel with 'terrorism' is compelling, and the solution as well: go back to the beginning and accept diversity and, most important, get rid of the elitism that assumes that one group, race, country has the right to thrive while others sicken and starve. The only alternative is an escalating cycle of violence.

While Monsanto has applied for a parallel patent in Canada, it has not yet been granted.
- sources: WP, MC, 13/9/01, WP 20/9/01

Issue 195: October 2001

Deskilling the Butcher
(and everyone else)

by Brewster Kneen


When I wrote From Land To Mouth (first published in 1989), I described what I called the logic of the food system with three words: distancing, uniformity and continuous flow. Distancing has since then become widely recognized and used as a tool to analyze and understand the industrial food system, as has proximity, the word I found best described the antithesis of distancing. The uniformity aspect is fairly obvious, certainly in the monoculture fields of wheat, canola or corn, and now in the genetic uniformity of patented crops and the monoculture of the supermarkets, despite the superficial diversity contained within them. Continuous flow was the least obvious characteristic. It was inspired by my visit to a very large dairy processors trade show in Chicago where I saw, for the first time, the latest equipment in dairy processing, in particular a very large machine that had a column of milk descending between two sheets of plastic which were formed non-stop into the familiar pouch around the stream of milk. Three of these one-litre bags were then packaged in a single larger bag for retail sale. It seemed to me then that this machine represented the essence of the industrial system - an endless flow of Product from Source (anywhere in the world) to Consumer to Sewage. The consumer's job is to keep the system functioning by being a good consumer, just another piece of tubing in the system. If we don't do our job, the system backs up and the overflow has to be siphoned off to the food banks.

Well, a dozen or so years later I decided that it was time to expose myself once again to the latest in food technology - not biotechnology, but food machinery of a more material kind such as ice cream machines and sausage machines and machines that disassemble a whole carcass of beef and turn it into packaged and even cooked bits and pieces for the deli case. The show I decided to attend in mid-October was the Worldwide Food Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago, sponsored by the American Meat Institute and the International Dairy Processors. I wandered for most of two days through what must have been thousands of exhibits, trying to understand what was being presented.

What I saw was a representation, in gleaming stainless steel, of the corporate consolidation that we all know has been taking place, and of the practice of 'continuous flow', though now it's from the centralized TNC-owned total-processing facility all the way out to the retail counter. Specifically, what I observed, and could admire in its ingenuity and design, was processing equipment that could transform the globally-packaged in a single-serving container, whether it was a meat or dairy product. In other words, all the processing and packaging is to be done at a single location and distributed without further transformation to the final consumer at the retail counter. Forget the one-litre bags in a three bag package. Now the proliferating flavours and combinations come in very attractive 150 ml or so Tetra-Pak 'prism' containers or 'wedges' or little plastic pouches (designed for third-world street vendors). Just look at what's available these days at the gas station, convenience store or supermarket. Of course you can buy the single-serving containers packaged in units of 6 or ten or twelve, but the point is that the basic package originates in head office, so to speak, and experiences the continuous flow of the vertically integrated corporation (or an alliance of corporations) from head office to retail counter to individual consumer.

For example: Meat packers used to buy live cattle and ship out 'swinging' beef, that is, beef carcasses by the side - swinging because the halves hung from a hook and would swing (and age) in the railway cars travelling from Chicago or Iowa to the eastern cities. There they would be sold to local butcher shops and, later, supermarkets, where the butchers in the back room would cut and wrap the meat according to customer desires. Then around fifteen years ago the packers such as Cargill and IBP started cutting the beef into smaller chunks and boxing them for shipment by truck - hence, boxed beef. But the local butcher still had to cut the big pieces into smaller cuts for the retail counter, and maybe even make some sausages if he still had the old-world skill. The latest chapter, of course, has the big packer taking over the whole process, shipping fully packaged and weighed retail cuts directly to the supermarkets. You won't find a 'back room' at the supermarket anymore, but you will find minimum-wage employees pricing the packages and keeping the display case stocked. Instead of the back room you will now find a deli counter up front, where food products are to be found in even smaller containers.

What's now in the works is a further centralization of preparation and a further de-skilling of everyone in the system down to the consumer at home or in the fast-food outlet ('outlet' is so appropriate!). The food product is cooked at factory-central so that the retail consumer just has to heat his individual 'serving' in the microwave.

The global food packaging industry has gone from being almost nothing 50 years ago to a $100 billion-a-year monster today. British farmers grow about $100 billion worth of food a year at farm-gate prices. The packaging industry is thought to turn over about $11 billion per year. Between 10% and 50% of the price of food can now be attributed to its packaging. - Guardian, 27/9/01

Oh yes, there is one other characteristic that I should note: ESL. (Extended shelf life, that is, not English as a Second Language, although given the global reach of the system that kind of ESL may be included as well.) Obviously, if food is going to be prepared and packaged hundreds or thousands of kilometres from its final resting place, it has to have ESL. This is achieved, in part, by the fancy and ingenious a-septic processing and packaging developed by Tetra-Pak, or by the process known as ultra-pasteurization (UHT), or irradiation (cobalt 60 has not gone over well, so now x-rays and 'electron beam' processing are being pushed).
At the end of the day, what this all adds up to is great individual "convenience," more of the food dollar going to packaging and distribution, and above all, more centralized control of the food system, and with that control, and profit.

What does all this have to do with nutrition, equity and justice? Not much. And even less with environmental well-being.

Issue 196: November 2001

The Right to Loaves and Fishes

by Brewster Kneen

In our last issue I suggested that what we should be talking about is food quality, not food safety. In this article I suggest that we think and talk more about the quality of our lives together - our society - than about security - even food security. No matter how I struggle with it (and with Cathleen who spends much of her time working in the movement for community food security), I cannot avoid the identification of the concept of security with an individualist assertion of my welfare over against someone else's. It's too easy to think of security as a fortress, and food security as having enough food stored up in my fortress to see me through an enemy attack. But who is the enemy?

There are societies in which it is understood that everyone, including the gleaners, has a share in the harvest. How else can you maintain a community? Sharing and swapping seeds is both more universally practised and more primordial than owning, patenting and selling seeds. Feasting and sharing what is available are, similarly, more ancient and ubiquitous practices than shopping at the supermarket for branded, processed, packaged foods.

"I do insist that the people of the Neo-Europes [North America, Australia and New Zealand, and those areas in many countries where there is a concentration of European descent] almost universally believe that great material affluence can and should be attained by everyone, particularly in matters of diet. In Christ's Palestine, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was a miracle; in the Neo-Europes it is expected." - Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism - The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 , Cambridge, 1986, p .307

"Perhaps European humans have triumphed because of their superiority in arms, organization, and fanaticism, but what in heaven's name is the reason that the sun never sets on the empire of the dandelion? Perhaps the success of European imperialism has a biological, an ecological, component." (Ibid, p. 7)

If, as the affluent West seems to assume, natural resources are infinite, then one might argue that expropriation of a quantity of these resources is tolerable. Everyone can claim some portion as their own, without necessarily depriving others of a portion. But in just saying that much, we have already introduced two other concepts; that of natural resources and that of own.

Natural resources are, of course, not infinite at all, despite our carefree blindness to the fact as we use up fossil fuels and fresh water in our version of 'development'. Furthermore, using the term resources suggests that value adheres only in that which we can utilize, that which is available for our exploitation. Nature/Creation, is not recognized as having any inherent value. Owning is simply a natural function of this assumption, since it is we - or I - that lend, or add, value to these resources.

Because we think that we add value, we also think that we have a claim on, or right to, that value. In a sense this is the old Marxist labour theory of value, except that seldom is the value now claimed actually the result of the labour performed by the self-proclaimed owner who is more apt to labour in the gym than at the workplace, and rewards to the shareholders has nothing to do with any contribution the shareholders might have made to society at large.

There is no thought of mutuality, that perhaps it is these resources that own us. But how else should we describe our dependency on fossil fuels? Can it not be said that our automobiles own us, that is, they determine the shape of much of our lives? Or is it not true that in the highly industrialized societies we are owned by the supermarkets as far as our food supply is concerned? Only a small - although growing - percentage of the population in these societies actually own their own food system in the sense of being responsible (growing, harvesting, preparing) for it. Most of us are utterly dependent on the global corporate food system over which we have absolutely no control and from which we can expect no security. We are owned by the system, and, unless we rebel, dependent upon it.

On the other hand, if we think, as our collective behaviour would indicate, that natural resources are infinite, then there should be no rationale for claiming ownership, for claiming territory and excluding others in pursuit of security. This logic applied to the patent system until very recently. Ideas could not be patented, only objects. Ideas were thought to be limitless and unbounded. (Copyright, and how cultural workers should be compensated for their work, is a different although related issue.)

Now, of course, in recognition of the corporate demand for protection of its property, we have the patenting of genetic material, including seeds, the patenting of computer software, and the patenting of procedures of genetic engineering. In other words, the claim to ownership rights has become limitless, without boundaries, and these limitless claims are steadily being enshrined in international trade agreements as universal law.

Natural boundaries are elusive. The property of our farm in Nova Scotia, for example, was never surveyed. One of the property boundaries was a creek. Two others were roads. Naturally, the creek did not stay exactly in one place. (For that matter, neither did the gravel roads.) Beavers had their role in shifting the boundary, but so did occasional flooding and silting and fallen trees not-by-beaver. It did not matter; we never did discuss the property line with our neighbour, either when we bought the property or when we sold it fifteen years later. When we purchased another farm, however, to expand our land base, we had to get the land surveyed in order to get a mortgage. None of the properties in the area had ever been surveyed and the nearest officially surveyed land was about 15 miles away. That meant we either had to survey the whole 15 miles or establish a local starting point for a survey. The simplest thing to do was to establish a point mutually agreed upon by Alex and Sam, the two old farmers who owned the farm we wanted to buy and the one next door, respectively. Sam and Alex had no problem agreeing that the old tree along the road marked the common boundary of their farms.

Now while the tree was old, it had certainly not been there forever, and probably not even for a century, though it had been there as long as Sam and Alex could remember. So what was the character of the boundary, and the deed of the land so bounded?

When the property was officially surveyed in the middle of winter, the fields were deep in more snow than the surveyors wanted to walk through, so they settled for two markers along the frontage road. The property lines then laid down on paper seemed to make sense to the records office. In the spring, however, when the snow was gone and we figured out where the paper lines really fell, we discovered that one corner of the official property fell smack-dab in the middle of the pasture. Two of the four property lines described on paper were utterly arbitrary and totally disconnected from topographical reality. A joke, in other words, but official, and officially recorded.

The real boundary line was one that Sam and Alex agreed upon and both respected. Similarly, the creek on our home farm was respected as the boundary by ourselves and our neighbours. Both boundaries were more a recognition of responsibility than a claim of the right to exploit. It was a matter of mutual respect among neighbours. It could just as well have been a matter of respect between whole communities, or of respect for the rights of the stream to wander or of the tree to die and rot.

(I know, there are arguments to be made about good fences making good neighbours. . . In our tiny yard in Toronto we planted beans in a box. They were prolific and grew, quite literally, all over the fence. We agreed that it would be best for our neighbours to take the beans on their side of the fence and we would pick "our" side. Later, in Mission, we grew beans along the back fence, but this time the neighbour on the other side of the fence wanted his property 'clean' and used Roundup herbicide to 'clean up' the perimeter. We stopped him from spraying right up to the fence - and the beans still grew through to his side of the fence where his kids picked them.)

What then of the fish in the creek or the seeds from the trees or in the beans? Perhaps ownership and property are less than useful concepts. For the fish to live in the creek, or the tree to bear leaves and drop seeds, those on both sides of the boundary had to respect and care for them.

Now let us take this another step. The boundaries I have been describing do have some objective, material basis, but when we wanted to establish a starting point for a more abstract and technical boundary on Alex's farm, it came down to what was in the heads of those two men. Furthermore, had I not already been farming that land, I would have been quite dependent on their knowledge of it to decide if I wanted to go to the trouble of establishing a legal definition of its boundaries so I could purchase it. Their knowledge did not come with the farm, and from a legal point of view, it was worth nothing. It was nonetheless valuable, and, if it has to be said, their knowledge added value to the farms for me. The same holds true for traditional crops and seeds. The knowledge - some would say wisdom - of when to plant, where to plant, how to plant, how to nurture, harvest and preserve the seeds and their crops is not contained in the DNA of the seed, but in the knowledge of the farmer and the community.

The recognition of a boundary signifies recognition of the integrity of what is bounded, be it a micro-organism, a seed, a farm or a community. Boundaries, and the organisms they identify, can take many forms, and often the forms they take bear no relationship to the property lines and political jurisdictions imposed on them. For the intrinsic boundaries to persist, there has to be some degree of mutuality or conviviality between the organism on one side and the organism on the other side. In other words, there has to be mutual respect, as, for example between a gardener and the seed.

Owning property may be simple on paper, but the reality is considerably more complex, and what one can own even in a legal sense is not as clear cut as we pretend it is. So when it comes to a question of patenting genetic resources and knowledge about them - indigenous and traditional knowledge - ITK as it is disrespectfully referred to - we are moving into a very questionable area. The notion of being able to claim ownership over ideas and information, whether in the head, heart, genes, or community tradition, becomes more and more implausible and outrageous the more one thinks about it.

What is and what can be considered property is not a simple matter. To even speak of property rights is difficult, if not morally objectionable and even impossible. What does it mean to assert my property rights over a creek except in terms of exercising my power and ability to exploit the creek as a resource for personal benefit?

Perhaps more light can be shed on the issue of rights by considering legal rights and civil rights. Legal rights are rights before the law, that is, freedoms of the individual person that are, supposedly, legally protected by the law. Similarly, civil rights are rights before the state, that is, rights and freedoms of the individual over against the claims of the state on the person. In both cases, rights refers to the protection of personal privileges over against the interests of an external authority. In other words, rights are a form of protection against an acknowledged greater power. They are a reservation for the individual against the collective power of the law and the state. The centre of gravity (power) is assumed to reside outside the person, hence the need for (limited) protection of the person. [We must note that the provisions of the so-called 'anti-terrorism' bill C-36 currently being considered by the Senate, having passed the House of Commons, are a serious attack on both legal and civil rights of Canadians.]

Security can be understood in a similar fashion as being protection over against external threats and powers. Thus food security can mean being assured of an adequate food supply for your own survival, whether 'your own' is you individually or as a family or community, although this is not the intended meaning of the term as it is used by those seeking food justice and food sovereignty.

The basis of our present commercial global food system is the understanding of food security which implies that there is not enough for everyone, and therefore I, or we, have to secure enough for ourselves over against the needs of others. Food security in this sense is like life or health insurance: when it is on an individual basis, what is enough? How long am I going to live, how sick am I going to get, will I be unemployed and so on pretty well ad infinitum.

The growing 'food security' movement, however, starts from a different understanding of security as based in community. The earth, as Gandhi famously commented, has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed. Security begins with the recognition - and celebration - of our dependence, not on the lords of the food system but upon one another and the natural world in all its diversity and abundance.

2000

Tables of Contents


January 2000 to December 2000

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to read the feature article of that issue by clicking on the red titles. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please contact us for a subscription or sample copy. We can also help with serious research. See also our Current Issue page.

#176, January 2000
TNCs Sail On -- WTO or Not: the story of Cargill's salt venture in Venezuela

# 177, February 2000
A Meal of Potatoes: public sector research outpaces biotech in solving problems

#178, March 2000
Standards and Hidden Agendas: Brewster explains the Canadian Organic Advisory Board and the voluntary standards process for biotech

#179, April 2000
A Common Script: the sham of public consultation, analysis of federal government's strategy to push biotech

#180, May 2000
Codex: Adapting to Survive: Brewster reports on the Codex Committee on Food Labelling and the politics of standardization

#181, June 2000
Political Economies: Lead article.

#182, July 2000
Creative Pest Control: Lead article by Florianne Koechlin.

#183, September 2000
New 'Lease on Life' for Patents by Brewster Kneen

#184, October 2000
Bird-Watching Cargill by Brewster Kneen - Cargill redesigns itself

#185, November 2000
Population: From Threat to Market Opportunity, by BK -- how the threat of a growing population has been constructed to bolster the biotech industry

#186, December 2000
"GMO's are Dead" " -- or so say many in the finance world. An update on how the biotech companies are trying to survive and stay in control


 

Issue 178


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The Ram's Horn #178, March 2000

Standards and Hidden Agendas

The following was written as a contribution to the discussions that are to take place March 26-27 at theAGM of the Canadian Organic Advisory Board. I thank those with whom I consulted and those whocommented on earlier drafts, but take full responsibility for this analysis and any errors of fact.


Two years ago, a whirlwind of public protest (some 275,000 messages of rebuke) forced the U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) to withdraw its proposed standard for organic agriculture which wasa direct contravention, not to say betrayal, of the unequivocal recommendations of the National OrganicStandards Board (NOSB) which had a legal mandate to make the final recommendations for thestandards that would become law.

The revised standard has now been posted for a mandatory period of 90 days for public comment(everything is available on a dedicated website, http://www.ams.usda. gov/nop. The proposed US standardis explicit in its exclusion of genetic engineering, irradiation, hormones, and sewage sludge from organicagriculture. The USDA remains responsible for seeing the standards through the legislative process,and the Meat Grading and Certification Branch of the USDA is "designated as the competent authorityfor the assessment of organic certification agencies in compliance with the ISO Guide 65."

Canadian experience has parallelled that of the U.S. with the notable exception of any process forpublic comment or involvement.

The organic standards that began to appear about 15 years ago arose, by and large, out of theexperience of regional groups of growers, from the bottom up. As new problems arose and loopholes andomissions were discovered, agreement had to be reached among a growing diversity of farmers as towhat was acceptable under the organic philosophy and label. Remember, too, that throughout most ofthis period, so-called conventional industrial agriculture was led to regard organic farmers asincompetent freaks or, at best, misfit Luddites. This, combined with the total neglect of organicagriculture production and marketing by the provincial and federal governments (except for Quebec),contributed to a defensive attitude among many of the organic pioneers. Swimming upstream all thetime can be tiring!

For most of a decade (1988-1998), Agriculture Canada facilitated and provided on-and-off financialsupport for the development of organic standards in Canada, first through the Canadian Organic UnityProject (COUP) and then through the Canadian Organic Advisory Board (COAB). Most of the energyand skill that went into actually developing the current standard, however, was volunteered bydedicated organic farmers. It was a long hard process to get agreement on what should or should notbe included in the organic standards, a process made even more difficult by the ecological, linguistic andgeographic differences that constitute Canada. It is hard for horticulturalists in the southern interiorof BC to understand the outlook and concerns of grain farmers in Saskatchewan, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, without announcement and without either a parliamentary debate or committeehearings on the subject, the purpose and policies of Agriculture Canada (as well as Health Canada)were being fundamentally rewritten. In keeping with its right-wing, neo- liberal ideology, thegovernment began to systematically and deliberately withdraw from its legislated regulatoryresponsibilities for food and drug safety. The business of government is being redefined to limit itsresponsibility to the establishment of standards acceptable to industry which industry is thenresponsible for policing. The rationale offered is twofold: first, regulation is inefficient and stands in theway of progress, and second, no business would engage in unsafe practices or produce a harmful productthat could damage its standing in the marketplace. The marketplace, in this instance, refers primarilyto the stock market, not the public. Hence the shift in the language of regulation from serving andprotecting the needs of the public to meeting the needs of the regulator's business 'clients.'

Organic farmers who had been deeply involved in the development of their own local organicstandards, seeing themselves as a self-regulating 'industry', saw no grave difficulties with thisperspective, and it was not at all obvious what the federal government was up to. It was thereforerelatively easy for the government to entice the organic farmers and processors working on certificationstandards out of the domain of Agriculture Canada and into the arms of the Canadian GeneralStandards Board (CGSB "an organization within the federal department of Public Works andGovernment Services Canada") with a promise of funding the process of establishing a national organicstandard. Industry Canada (the ministry also responsible for the Canadian [pro-]Biotech Strategy)provided a grant of $200,000 to Agriculture Canada (I've also been told it was $380,000 for two years)with which COAB could hire the CGSB to do the job (at $800 per day). This has made it possible for the politicians and their bureaucrats to avoid the political issue ofQuebec, the legal issue of liability, and the ideological issue of regulating product rather than process.(This is particularly apparent in relation to biotechnology, where Agriculture Canada and the CFIAhave argued all along that they are not responsible for regulating biotechnology as a process, but onlythe products of biotechnology if and when they are deemed unsafe.)

It was never a matter of not having the facility to handle organic standards, because AgricultureCanada could have simply converted the standards and rules developed by the Canadian OrganicAdvisory Board into regulations under the Canadian Agricultural Products (CAP) Act. It could still doso. This would not make the national standard mandatory and alterable only by an act of Parliament. Acts of Parliament establish the legal authority, while the regulations which spell out the specifics of an act are added later by politicians and bureaucrats and can be changed by them as well. The CertifiedOrganic Associations of British Columbia (COABC), for example, can agree to a standards change atits AGM; these changes go to the provincial government and are made legally binding through an OrderIn Council.

To obscure its own manipulation, the government set up a smokescreen of complaints that theorganic growers could not get their act together and come to an agreement everyone could live with. Byturning the process over to the CGSB, agreement would not have to be reached amongst all the organicgrowers, just those appointed by the CGSB itself to sit on the voting committee.

"Approval of the Draft Standard is achieved by consensus, which is defined as substantialagreement by those involved in the preparation of the standard. Consensus implies much more than asimple majority, but it is not necessarily unanimity. In addition, an attempt must be made to resolve allobjections to the Draft Standard. Of the voting members, at least 60% must return their ballots and atleast 50% of all the Committee's voting members must be in favour of the Draft Standard." <www.pwgsc.gc.ca/cgsb/text/eng>

The argument put forth along with the money was that ISO (International StandardizationOrganization) accreditation would be necessary to conform with international trade rules and that thiscan be achieved only though the sister organization of the CGSB, the Standards Council of Canada.

The International Standardization Organization is, like Codex Alimentarius, a voluntary bodyestablished under the United Nations "to promote the development of standardization and relatedactivities . . . with a view to facilitating the global exchange of goods and services. . . A member body ofISO is the national body most representative of standardization in its country." The member body of ISOin Canada is the Standards Council of Canada. <www.coab.ca>

ISO 65 is the "guide" for accreditation of the non-profit organizations which, in turn, certifyorganizations within a country that actually uphold a particular standard, in this case, the standardfor organic certification. In Canada, the Standards Council of Canada is the registry, with a $35,000application fee (which COAB has already paid). The outcome is described on the COAB website thisway:

"Certified inspection agencies or third party inspectors that have met the minimum criteria of COAB .. .will provide inspection/evaluation reports on behalf of COAB. These reports are submitted to a newbranch of COAB, the Certification Secretariat . . .comprised of a panel of qualified experts that areindependent of the COAB. . . COAB will offer certification to any enterprise who [sic] meets thecertification criteria of the national standard. . . COAB will not delegate the function of issuingcertificates to independent agencies. For other certification bodies [such as any of those currently operating inCanada], using the COAB system will allow for a two-seal product label."

COAB would, obviously, have to become a substantial, and expensive, centralized organization,which would seem to contradict a fundamental characteristics of organic agriculture, namelydecentralization, diversity and locality. The cost would be borne by those using the service, i.e., theorganic farmers and processors desiring ISO certification. For provinces which already have aprovincial standard, provincial accreditation, and local Certifying Bodies (CBs), this would mean threelevels of regulation that farmers have to pay for.

The threat of being excluded from the European market is a major factor behind the CGSB/ISOpush. The COAB website states that after July 1, 1999, member states of the European Union will notimport organic products that are not certified compliant with the ISO Guide 65, thoughCOAB staff say the actual date for compliance is 2002.

Further enmeshing itself in the privatization and deregulation program of the federal government,COAB is currently applying for federal support under the Canadian Adaptation and Rural DevelopmentFund (CARD) "to develop the infrastructure and capability of COAB in building a national certificationsystem, and to coordinate and promote sustainable agriculture." (COAB Bulletin Vol.3, #1) Of course,CARD funding, like just about everything else the government does these days, requires an industry"partner" to match the 50% of the project cost that the government will provide. There is no indicationof who this "industry partner" is expected to be.

This whole process amounts to the privatization of the regulatory function of government in theinterests of facilitating international trade. Described this way, it is easy to see the consistency withgovernment trade policy and the government commitment to transnational corporations which hasnothing whatsoever to do with the integrity of organic agriculture and the honesty of its representationin the marketplace.

The transfer of the regulatory function to a private agency is a way of avoiding liability and thelegal mandate of the government to protect its citizens. It is important to remember that food inspectioncame about out of the need to protect citizens from the adulteration of food, adulteration being the termused to describe not just watering down the beer, but using whatever cheap substances could be foundto hide the smell of foods gone bad, to extend the quantity of food by adding chalk to cheese, sawdustto wieners, and similar practices. (Mind you, meat "extenders" are now a legally recognized product,as you can see from reading the ads in Meat & Poultry magazine or attending trade shows. If they arestill killers, they are slow enough to get by a regulatory system that now describes itself as the"approval process.")

Now the government is using the process by which the organic standards were moved into theprivate domain of the CGSB as a template to establish voluntary guidelines for the labelling of GEfoods. To relieve himself, as Minister of Agriculture, of his legal responsibility for the proper labellingof GE foods, the Minister got the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors (CCGD) to take the lead inrequesting that voluntary labelling guidelines be developed by the CGSB. Agriculture Canada 'agreed'to fund the work, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the so-called Consumers Association ofCanada and the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada eagerly signed on. (See RH#173, Sept. 1999)The voluntary guidelines are now being developed by a committee of the CGSD dominated byappointees who can be expected to serve the interests of the biotech industry. The result is highlyunlikely to be a meaningful mandatory requirement for the labelling of all foods produced throughbiotechnology though we might expect to see voluntary guidelines that permit foods containing from1% to 5% GE components to be labelled as GE-free.

The deadline for completion of the labelling committee's work is the end of March. Is it justcoincidence that the decisive meeting of COAB, which is supposed to finalize its relationship to theCGSD and ISO 65, was inexplicably postponed for a month by the CFIA, to March 26-27?

There is still some confusion, for good reason, among organic farmers about what the CGSBprocess and ISO Guide 65 will actually mean in terms of cost and control. While organic growers arebeing told that they will have to have ISO certification to export into the global, and particularlyEuropean, market, it would be very unwise to organize one's life accordingly. The European Union isnot a single monolithic body; it is composed of a number of fairly independent power centres, such asthe EU Commission, the EU Parliament, and the member states themselves, and a decision by one armof the octopus does not mean that the other arms will cooperate or enforce the decision. For example,the US has been trying to break the EU's ban on hormone beef without success for years, and a WTOruling against Europe has not helped.

EU Extends Beef Hormone DeadlineOn February 9th the Standing Veterinary Committee of the European Commission extended the deadline for the US to satisfy monitoringrequirements for hormone-free meat exports by one month to give the US one last chance to meet the EC standards for hormone-free beef.A year ago EU inspectors found traces of hormones in 12-20% of beef samples from US slaughterhouses samples which were supposedto be hormone-free. This has posed a significant obstacle to resolving the broader dispute between the EU and US over the EU ban on US (andCanadian) hormone-treated beef. As part of a US attempt to settle the dispute, the US offered to label hormone-treated beef exports andincrease its non-hormone treated beef exports to the EU.The issue of hormone residues was aggravated last July when Swiss health inspectors discovered supposedly hormone-free beef imported fromthe US contaminated with DES, an illegal hormone. According to Swiss officials, 26 samples were tested: two were contaminated with DES andfive with melengestrol acetate.Some experienced exporters of organic grains say that ISO certification is irrelevant: they don'thave it, they don't need it, and business is just fine. What their customers want to know is where thegrain comes from, who grew it, and what the local certifying body is. In other words, it is thereputation, the brand name, if you will, of the certification body that is trusted. It is also the reputation,experience and vigilance of the exporter that sells organic grains, not some impersonal ISO number.

Then there is the philosophy of most organic farmers that organic should mean local orbio-regional: we should grow for the local market and trade the leftovers for the items we cannot growin our climate, such as coffee and oranges. There are a great many organic growers who want to anddo sell only into their local market, and for them local or regional certification is all that is needed. Conversations with people in the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool organic division, the Canadian WheatBoard, and traders-exporters of organic grainsd suggest that the CGSB/ISO route may be a costly andunnecessary encumbrance that will ill serve the development of healthy organic food systems withinCanada. There are also major players in the food industry who do not like the game being played withthe "voluntary labelling" of GE foods and feel that labelling standards are the responsibility ofAgriculture Canada and its minister, not a matter to be privatized under the CGSB.

When the process of developing an organic standard was shifted from Ag Canada to the CGSB,there was no way for organic growers and processors to know that they were being the developers ofa template that the government would subsequently use to relieve itself of its legal mandate to properlyregulate and label GE foods, but that is exactly what is happening.

The hidden agenda behind the switch from Ag Canada to the CGSB/ISO process is privatizationand harmonization for purposes of fulfilling the global marketing plans and ideology of the majortransnational corporations.

It seems to me that organic farmers and the organic trade need to take the lead in demanding thatAgriculture Canada, and the Canadian government, accept responsibility for implementing the organicstandards so painfully and labouriously developed by COAB and accept responsibility for the properregulation and labelling of GE foods. These two items are inseparable, if only because the unrestrictedgrowing of transgenic GE crops is going to have a major deleterious effect on organic agriculture.

We should not forget for a moment that, in the context of a government commitment to thepromotion of biotechnology since 1983, the direction it is pushing organic and GE can serve only theinterests of the TNCs engaged in biotechnology and the TNCs that exercise effective control over theindustrial food system. Nor should we overlook the fact that within weeks of the USDA releasing itsorganic standards that allowed the use of genetic engineering, the same thing happened in Canada. Ihave been assured that it was only a clerical error that caused all mention of genetic engineering in theCOAB standards to be dropped between the last draft approved by COAB and the draft that was sentout for a vote under the rules of the CGSB. The draft was promptly rejected, but questions were raised.If it was actually a clerical 'error', then the incompetence of the CGSB staff is alarming. A similar'clerical error' removed the term "inspection system", thereby allowing an individual to use the word'organic' without being member of a certifying body.

The plotters are still operating, with public financing thanks to the government, Industry Canadaand Agriculture Canada. It is time to put a stop to this.



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The Ram's Horn #179, April 2000

A Common Script
by Brewster Kneen


Once upon a time, probably in 1993, I attended a consultation in Ottawa that was, ostensibly, to help government shape the regulation of biotechnology, including labelling. It was a small group, essentially self-selected, with government and industry well represented along with the Consumers Association. A few of us without a vested interest in the industry were also there, from Canadian Organic Growers and the Canadian Environmental Network, because we were concerned about the direction the government was taking this 'novel' industry. The consultation, like a second one a year later, did not reach a consensus, although industry and government voices have presented the pro-industry outcome ever since as if there had been. The report on the 1994 workshop, for example, states that "workshop participants generally agreed on the following... Mandatory labelling of all food products derived from genetic engineering would be meaningless and should not be required. . ."

In the fall of 1999 at a conference at McMaster University, I was surprised to hear Mary Lou Garr of AGCare using my attendance at the 1993 meeting to legitimize the process of misrepresentation and manipulation that has characterized such "public" consultations ever since. I took the opportunity to correct her interpretation and to point out that there has been nothing democratic about the process of developing public policy for biotechnology. I told Garr, and the group, that I was there only because I insisted on being present as one of the very few members of the public who had any idea of what was going on in Ottawa. I pointed out that I did this on my own time, and at my own expense.

This past February Dale Adolph of the Canola Council, at a meeting in Saskatoon, made the same use of my presence at that one consultation. I again informed the audience that there was nothing public or democratic about the so-called consultative process of forming biotech policy and that there never was a consensus on the emerging policy.

When Stephen Yarrow of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) pulled the same trick at a meeting a couple of weeks ago in Kelowna, B.C., at which I was present, it was no longer possible to avoid drawing the conclusion that this little script had been photocopied and sent around to all industry flacks from some central propaganda agency. This conclusion was underscored when I heard that Yarrow had said the same thing at meetings when I was not present. I suppose I should be flattered that the industry thinks I carry such weight that the invocation of my name will legitimize their manipulation.

Soon after I attended that notorious meeting, a woman named Joyce Byrne became the head of the Biotech Strategies and Coordination Office of Agriculture Canada which became, in 1997, the biotech office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Joyce subsequently changed employers and became, as Joyce Groot, head of the Food Biotechnology Communications Network, an industry lobby organization. From there she moved up to the position of president of BIOTECanada, the successor to the Canadian Institute of Biotechnology (CIB) which Rick Walter had headed. In her current position Joyce Groot has become a major spokesperson for the global biotech industry, most recently in regard to the Biosafety Protocol.

It is also interesting to note who composed the 'steering committee' for the 1994 workshop since the list includes the industry representatives who have constituted the industry PR steering committee all along; people such as Jeannie Cruikshank of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, Phyllis Tanaka, now of CFIC (the Canadian subsidiary of IFIC, the International Food Information Council), Laurie Curry of what is now the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada, along with a representative from the Consumers Association of Canada, one from the Canadian Dietetic Association, and seven from government departments.

It is vitally important not to underestimate the manipulation and misrepresentation that is taking place in a frantic, not to say hysterical, campaign to convince the public that we really love GE and will starve in a polluted environment without biotech. We ignore the deceitful, highly centralized and extremely well-funded character of the campaign at our peril.

Just look at the use--and misuse--of language. For example, farm writer Jim Romahn has told readers of Ontario Farmer (22/2/00) how "spin doctors continue their search for words that will elicit stronger public support for genetically modified foods." He reports that Andy Benson of IFIC says none of the terms that have been tried have been working. Transgenics is out, and consumers have negative attitudes about genetically-modified foods, about novel foods, about genetically-altered foods, and about genetic engineering, he said. What does that leave? According to Romahn, "the spin doctors are leaning towards 'food improvement' and 'enhancement' now, but Benson said the industry hasn't found anything that's really good." The public, he notes, becomes "more accepting" of GE foods "when the technology is presented as the latest step in a long evolution of plant breeding and farming practices."

Ottawa-based agricultural writer Henry Heald expresses the party line in the current issue of Country Life in BC:

"If our aim is to produce better crops and livestock without the use of chemicals, then isn't genetic modification of the plant and the animal the way to go? In fact, isn't that the way we have been going for generations? . . . "Equating genetic modification with chemical pollution is a public relations ploy used by radical environmental groups who are more interested in slamming the multinational corporations than they are in ensuring that people eat healthy, wholesome food. . . . "Mother Nature has been exercising genetic modification since time began. . . . "Scientists have learned how to manipulate DNA . . . That is the one thing that is new in the science of biotechnology. So plant breeders and animal geneticists can make genetic modifications that couldn't be made in the field, but it is still organic."

The colourful little booklet "Food Safety and You", distributed recently to every household in Canada at a cost of $25.3 million (23 cents x 11 million copies, according to the CFIA), spins the same line of misinformation, while also emphasizing that it is the responsibility of the consumer to ensure food safety by proper cleaning and cooking of foods. For a more extensive expression of the current industry spin, try the website www.whybiotech.com, one aspect of the new $50 million propaganda campaign just launched against us by the world's seven biggest 'life-sciences' companies: Aventis CropScience, BASF, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto, Novartis, Zeneca Ag Products, and BIO (the US Biotech Industry Organization). The $50 million is just the first year's budget for the Council for Biotechnology Information, and part of it is going for TV spots. The first of these was created by BSMG Worldwide, a unit of True North Communications Inc of Chicago, "specialists in crisis management and consumer awareness campaigns," according to the New York Times.

Now, while it may sound absurd, we might just wonder if Industry Canada is contributing to this $50 million budget. After all, it is a dues-paying member of BIOTECanada, which it has generously supported both in its present form and when it was the CIB. There has, to be fair, been some concern within Industry Canada over whether it is proper for the department to be a member of a group that has as one of its principal purposes influencing the decisions of government departments, especially Industry, Agriculture and Health: Joyce Groote is registered on behalf of BIOTECanada's 115 members to lobby 16 government institutions, including Industry Canada, the Privy Council Office, Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

According to Intra-departmental memos obtained through the Access to Information Act by researcher Ken Rubin, Industry Canada renewed its membership in BIOTECanada last December after the industry organization agreed to slash annual dues from $6,500 to $1,000 to accommodate the pleas of Dr. George Michaliszyn, director of the Bio-industries Branch of Industry Canada.

Over the past 15 months, Industry Canada has also issued to BIOTECanada at least four separate research contracts worth a minimum of $117,000. Two of the contracts were to study the positive or negative effects of research and development tax credits on biotechnology companies. In the disclosures of its lobbying activity required under federal law, BIOTECanada also reports receiving $150,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and $34,000 from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). source: Ottawa Citizen, 10/4/00

Voluntary Labelling

In the last issue of The Ram's Horn ("Standards and Hidden Agendas") I questioned the process that the Canadian Organic Advisory Board has gotten itself into with the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). I pointed out that the process for producing the draft organic standards under the CGSB is being used as a template for the development of what was originally to be a voluntary standard for the labelling of foods produced through biotechnology (the term still used by Codex Alimentarius).

"Accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, the CGSB offers standards development services, ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 registration, and maintains an extensive certified and qualified products and services list." The products covered range from Firefighters' Protective Clothing (an obviously significant standard) to Floor Type Tobacco, Ash Receiver, Metal or Plastic (one does have to wonder about this one). from Calibre, the CGSB newsletter

More recently I received from the CGSB a document titled, "Update on Preliminary Work Towards First Draft Standard, 1 March 2000, CGSB Standard for Voluntary Labelling of Foods Obtained or Not Obtained Through Genetic Modification".

Now, the original mandate of this project, in response to the peculiar initiative taken by the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Minister of Agriculture last fall, was to develop a "standard on the voluntary labelling of foods obtained through biotechnology."

The work of the CGSB is done by working groups and staff, with infrequent meetings of the whole voting committee. The voting members now number 58, with all biotech industry groups represented, including several from the University of Guelph, as you might expect. According to the CGSB Policy Manual (1994), Standards Committees should have between 15 and 30 members and "all interested and affected parties are encouraged to participate in the development of the standard." There is, however, to be "balanced representation," meaning that "no single category of interest representation can dominate the voting procedures of the committee." (The CGSB is still having trouble obtaining the required balanced representation because a large number of organizations and individuals, such as myself, refused on principle to participate as voting members. We did not want to lend credibility to an obviously rigged process a wise decision in light of my experience reported above. I still get all the CGSB documentation as a non-voting ' information member.') The membership list is available from the CGSB. Contact: Marian Gaucher, ph:819-956-1594, fx:956-5740, email: marian l.gaucher@pwgsc.gc.ca

Shifting the Burden of Proof

One of the first acts of the CGSB committee, at its first full meeting last November, was to change its name and the mandate. The new name: Committee on Voluntary Labelling of Foods Obtained or Not Obtained Through Genetic Engineering. At its second meeting, in January, the title was further amended with Genetic Modification replacing Genetic Engineering. Hence the current title.

It is obviously no accident that the change to "obtained or not obtained" has shifted the burden of proof from the producer/marketer of GE foods to the producer/marketer of non-GE foods. This becomes clear in the "New Proposed National Standard of Canada" dated 16 March 2000, which puts GE Free foods in a category parallel to Certified Organic, and uses the organic standards as a template for GE Free certification procedures.

For example: under Compliance Measures, there is a subsection that says, "An enterprise seeking GM Free certification shall prepare a production plan." There follows a list of measures, including documentation, the enterprise will have to implement to achieve "GM Free" certification. Section 5.6.1 reads: "Integrity: a major objective of a GM Free system is to maintain the inherent qualities of the product from production, processing, storage, handling and labelling, to the point of sale."

No such objective of integrity is given for GE foods, and obviously, given the climate of public opinion, no producer, processor or distributor is going to voluntarily label a product as "Certified GM."

The net effect of this will be that the burden of proof--and the cost--has been squarely placed on the producer of non-genetically engineered foods while GE foods remain anonymous and without integrity.

This is clearly the anticipated fruit of the strategy to privatize responsibility for labelling. Agriculture Canada, the CFIA, and Health Canada escape both responsibility and liability this way, again not by accident, while the biotech industry gets off scot-free. This scenario was probably mapped out in advance by Industry Canada with the "voluntary" compliance of the other departments and the assistance of yet-to-be-named PR firms.

Which means that we will have to continue to demand that the minister of agriculture, Lyle Vanclief carry out his responsibility for the mandatory labelling of all foods produced through biotechnology. Or better, not to allow them on the market in the first place.


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And when they make a long blast on the ram's horn, then all the people shall shout with a great shout: and the walls of the city will fall down flat.

-Joshua 6:5



Home | Who We Are | Current Issue | Back Issues | Books


Issue 180


A monthly journal of food system analysis - BACK ISSUE -

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The Ram's Horn is supported solely by subscriptions & donations. If you are able to give a higher amount, your gift will subsidize a subscription for someone in need.

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The Ram's Horn #180, May 2000

Codex: Adapting to Survive
by Brewster Kneen


No organism exists without a context, and Codex Alimentarius is no exception.

Established by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1962 "to guide and promote the elaboration and establishment of definitions and requirements for foods, to assist in their harmonization and, in doing so, to facilitate international trade," the Codex Alimentarius Commission certainly bears more resemblance today to an organism than to a compendium of "science-based" food definitions and standards.

The processes of a Codex meeting, such as the annual meeting of the Codex Committee on Food labelling (CCFL) held in Ottawa May 9-12, are really only comprehensible if one thinks of an organism that must maintain its own integrity in order to survive, while at the same time mutating and adapting to threats and pressures from alien and sometimes hostile forces, whether biological, political or ethical.
Codex, at least as expressed in the CCFL, of which Canada is both host country and chair, has remained largely faithful to the its original mandate. It operates by consensus according to rules that remain surprisingly undefined and hence resistant to the efforts of the United States to turn it into a lackey (Codex, that is, not Canada) by forcing majority rule, as in the World Bank or IMF and the standards remain voluntary. How long this will be the case remains to be seen as transnational corporations and the US Government, with Canada's disgraceful support, seek to make Codex the rule making body for foods under the WTO. There are no enforcement mechanisms for Codex standards otherwise since Codex was merely to supply the definitions and standards that countries and companies could use to facilitate their international trade when appropriate. It is curious how the ideologues of free trade and less government interference want stringent enforceable rules their rules when it suits their purposes!

William Cronon, in his brilliant and fascinating book Nature's Metropolis (Norton, 1991) describes the development of food standards in the context of the rise and rule of the Chicago Board of Trade, which was founded in 1848:

As the scale of Chicago's grain trade grew, elevator operators began objecting to keeping small quantities of different owners' grain in separate bins that were only partially filled for an unfilled bin represented underutilized capital. To avoid that disagreeable condition, they sought to mix grain in common bins. Crops from dozens of different farms could then mingle, and the reduced cost of handling would earn the elevator operator higher profits. The only obstacle to achieving this greater efficiency was the small matter of a shipper's traditional legal ownership of physical grain.

The organization that eventually solved this problem . . . was this Chicago Board of Trade... [In 1856] the Board made the momentous decision to designate three categories of wheat in the city . . . and to set standards for each. . .

Farmers and shippers delivered grain to a warehouse and in return got a receipt that they or anyone else could redeem at will. Anyone who gave the receipt back to the elevator got in return not the original lot of grain but an equal quantity of equally graded grain. . . The grading system allowed elevators to sever the link between ownership rights and physical grain, with a host of unanticipated consequences. (pp.114-116)

One of these unanticipated changes, which we might compare to the "unintended consequences" of genetic engineering, was the creation of a 'futures' market a market in which it was not the actual commodity that was traded, but a claim on the actual commodity. Traders could gamble on the movement of prices over time, hence the name 'futures market', which was "a market not in grain but in the price of grain," as Cronon describes it.

"Grain elevators and grading systems had helped transmute wheat and corn into monetary abstractions, but the futures contract extended the abstraction by liberating the grain trade itself from the very processes which had once defined it: the exchange of physical grain." (p.126) With the physical link between the real commodity or food and the market severed, the need for agreed upon standards becomes obvious. Enter Codex Alimentarius.

Before turning to the meeting of the CCFL itself, however, another aspect of its context needs to be dealt with. Otherwise it is really not possible to fully understand the organism's actions and reactions.

In the past couple of years we have been witnesses to a well-orchestrated attack on multinational institutions by transnational powers, beginning with the refusal of the United States to pay its full dues to the United Nations and those constituent bodies that show reluctance to execute the will of the US. Last year we saw the marginalization of the UN as NATO was called upon to attack Kosovo. We see the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) referenced as an authority to legitimize the pseudo-science of purported regulatory agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, when in fact the OECD is a political body with the mandate of fostering international trade on behalf of its members, the highly industrialized states of Europe and North America. Now we are seeing systematic efforts to privatize standard setting through the International Standards Organization (ISO) and its appendages such as the Canadian General Standards Board and the Standards Council of Canada. Both are part of "Canada's National Standards System [which] is expected to support Canada's commitment to the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement." (personal letter from CGSB 13/12/99) In other words, what we can observe in the sideshow of the CCFL meeting is the attempt of the US, aided by Canada, to impose its will on Codex and barring success in that, to marginalize Codex and replace it with the ISO regime which is controlled by big business.

It seems . . . that the ISO is actually perceived by the World Business Council on sustainable Development (WBCSD) as being even more important that the WTO. Indeed, the most effective means to ensure that TNCs will create their global 'level playing field' is to ensure that ISO sets those product, and even more so, those production process standards, that must favour WBCSD interests. Finger & Kilcoyne, The Ecologist, 7/97

The drama, then, in the May 2000 meeting of the CCFL lay in the manoeuvres by the US and Canada to pursue a two track strategy: first, trying to gain support for a meaningless decision for the mandatory labelling of food products containing engineered DNA or protein known to be harmful, i.e., which would not be on the market anyway; or, failing that, to pursue a deliberately obstructionist strategy that would make any decision impossible, thus enabling the US and Canada to claim that Codex is dysfunctional, which would, in turn, open the door to the ISO regime. In other words, as with sanctions against Cuba and the continued bombing and sanctions against Iraq, the policy very much appears to be: If you cannot control, then destroy.

The surprise of the meeting was the very strong leadership taken by India and Norway, together with Consumers International, in their call for mandatory labelling of all foods derived from biotechnology, without qualification. They called for the labelling of process and product, and of product whether or not it contained altered DNA or protein. It is worth noting that Norway is not a member of the EU, and is thus free to express its own views. Norway was, by the end of the meeting, supported by Denmark, Germany and Italy, to the best of my knowledge (one can only be sure when the final report is released). Norway's pre-conference comments stated:

We are of the opinion that all foods genetically modified or genetically engineered, for whatever purpose, should be labelled as such, regardless of having been changed or not.

The main issue for the consumer is not whether a product can have an effect on human health under different circumstances or is different from a "conventional" product, but rather the consumers' right to being properly informed. Thus, in a field where concerns exist based, i.e. on ethical and environmental values, they would be able to make their own choice. . . Consumers have a right to have their views in this regard acknowledged by the authorities.

Consumers International added to the Norwegian position that it believed that "comprehensive labelling is the most scientifically sound approach, whereas exclusion of products which contain no [altered] protein or DNA is not based on sound science." CI added that full labelling would facilitate traceability, an issue which had not surfaced in previous CCFL discussions. Denmark also stressed the issue of traceability in its initial comments.

Canada, on the other hand, repeated one of its brief repertoire of gobbledygook lines: "voluntary labelling of foods derived, or not, through gene technology can provide a useful means for manufacturers to identify these foods and inform consumers when the labelling is truthful, not misleading and based on appropriate standards." With great dishonesty, the Canadian statement added that "modern crop production methods and the necessity for multilevel handling, distribution and food processing practices present a significant potential for some product mixing to occur. . . Failure to recognize this market reality could result in misleading and/or erroneous product information being presented to consumers." In other words, having polluted the system as best we can as fast as we could, we will now argue that nothing upstream can change and we will have to accept the fait accompli. The fact that the same companies pushing biotech foods have also developed and are trading in Identity Preserved crops is apparently irrelevant.

The United States revealed the key element of its current strategy in the following words: "Providing information regarding the method of production on the food label would be highly impractical and inequitable. Difficulties and costs in applying such labelling to commingled commodity products used in prepackaged foods containing ingredients from many different sources would be substantial and would be borne by all consumers." The US does not say why the (unsubstantiated) costs would be borne by all consumers, rather than by the biotech industry which is causing the problem in the first place.

The biotech discussion took most of Tuesday, May 9th, with 282 delegates and observers present, representing 44 member countries and 30 international organizations, most of the latter being industry lobby organizations. Discussion of wording and definitions (referred to as Section 2) took up about half of the time, but did produce some interesting results, most noticeably replacement of the deliberately misleading term "modern biotechnology" by "certain techniques of genetic modification/genetic engineering."

The rest of the day, and the first part of Wednesday morning, was taken up with Section 5, which consisted of two alternative options proposed by a working group chaired by Canada. (Canada is in the difficult position of providing the neutral Chair of the CCFL and the meeting, in the person of Anne MacKenzie, while the head of the Canadian delegation, Gerry Reasbeck, articulates the increasingly unpopular position of the Canadian Government and the CFIA. Both MacKenzie and Reasbeck are senior bureaucrats in the CFIA.)

The first option was the US/Canada position for voluntary (i.e. no) labelling, while the second option was for limited mandatory labelling. Neither included identification of the process by which the foods were derived.

At this point Norway and India, supported by others, called for a third option of mandatory labelling of allfoods derived from biotechnology without qualification, as previously mentioned.

By then it was clear that a growing number of delegations were becoming very annoyed by the obstructionist positions being taken by Canada and the US, with token support from Thailand, Australia and a few other countries. As a way of overcoming the impasse, Japan suggested that the labelling of GE foods be treated as a guideline rather than a standard. This is an important distinction. As a standard, the non-labelling of GE food, as demanded by the US, could be enforced by the WTO, which would amount to a ban on the meaningful labelling of GE food. If any consensus regarding the labelling of GE foods were reached and the result designated as a guideline, however, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the WTO to act as enforcer, and the character of Codex would remain true to its tradition. Neither Option 3 nor the Japanese suggestion of making the issue a guideline pleased the US and Canada, though as the discussion proceeded, more and more countries suggested that these options needed to be taken very seriously.

It is my interpretation that as the US became increasingly obstructionist, and Canada tried to front for it, countries that had been wavering were moved to distance themselves from the US/Canada position/strategy. When the draft report was presented Friday morning, there was a notable increase in the level of anger at the tactics being used to downplay the mandatory labelling and guideline proposals in favour of forcing a choice between the obviously unacceptable options 1 and 2. The chair had to do some fancy (and admirable, I must admit) footwork to recover her 'neutral' stance and allow a substantial rewording of the text to actually reflect the will of the delegates.

The outcome: some wording and definitions have been improved and clarified, but the labelling of GE foods remains stuck where it has been for three years, at step three (out of 8) in the Codex process. The working group, which now includes India, is to reconvene with Canada as chair to come up with a proposal for consideration a year from now. Because the contentious Section Five was left undecided, so was the question of whether "differs significantly" or "no longer equivalent" should be used to designate which foods would require labelling under Option one. During the discussion, however, it was very clear that a majority of the delegates felt that "significantly", like "substantially," was just not acceptable as a scientific term.

What we can expect to see now is the US pursuit of a two-track policy: support for what amounts to a no-label position in Codex, and the development of mandatory (under the WTO) standards for the labelling of non-GE foods in the ISO context. The model for this second course of action is, of course, being developed in Canada, as described in The Ram's Horn #179.

We have, however, been given a year in which to organize, and to strengthen and expand the global alliance that became visible and effective in this year's meeting of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling. While it may seem pointless to write to the Ministers of Health and Agriculture, given their demonstrated lack of interest in the views of the Canadian public, it probably does not hurt to keep reminding them of the majority view of Canadians regarding the labelling of GE food. It would also be good to express our views, in the strongest possible terms, to the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the House of Commons.

John Harvard is Chair of the committee (harvard.j@parl.gc.ca, fax 613-992-3199) and Clerk of the committee, Georges Eroka, can be reached at agri@parl.gc.ca.

If you wish to be kept informed of future information and action on this issue, please let us know. We need to develop a strong citizens' voice on Codex issues. It's not everybody's cup of tea, but it can be interesting.




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Ram's Horn #181

Political Economy of Death,
Political Economy of Life

By Brewster Kneen

The term "political economy" is a recognition that all economies are socially constructed. Choices are made as to how the needs and wants of people are to be interpreted (or created) and met or not. Choices are made as to how the environment is to be regarded and treated. The political question is, which people make these choices, and for what purposes?

June 9-16 I had the privilege of participating in a conference on Faith, Economy and Theology in Hofgeismar, Germany. The conference was organized by a group of German church agencies and ecumenical initiatives in cooperation with Pax Christi International, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches. It brought together about 150 people of all ages from some 50 countries to discus the theme "Faith Communities and Social Movements Facing Globalization." It was a treat for me to see some old friends with whom I have been collaborating for some 35 years; and it was even more exciting to discover a shared analysis and vision with people from very diverse situations in very different regions of the world. The intent of the organizers was to analyse the capitalist project of globalization and the growing resistance to it. In my group, working under the heading of "ecology", we quickly focussed on what we came to call the political economy of life as opposed to the globalizing capitalist political economy of death. This small group included participants from India, Korea, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, El Salvador, Indonesia and Canada. When we presented our position to the whole conference the diagram on the front page it was exciting to feel the response of relief and affirmation. It was clear we were speaking for the whole group.

The political economy of life a phrase put forward by Kim Yong-Bock from Korea is based on respect for all life and Creation. The term Creation is used specifically to express a very different attitude toward the natural world we live in than is usually meant by the word 'nature', which tends to reflect the attitude that 'nature' is external to ourselves, essentially stingy and hostile, and there for us to exploit.

"Having ceased to think of ourselves as sacred beings, we have had little difficulty desacralizing the world around us, evolving a world view that strips the Earth and its creatures of any sacred significance, reducing our natural inheritance to a bank of exploitable assets available uniquely to Homo rapiens.

"Surely this is a matter for debate. But how sad that all our scientific gurus can come up with is invective and arrogant scorn." Johathon Porritt in the Guardian, 25/5/00, commenting on the reaction to the rather beautiful words of Prince Charles in one of this year's Reith Lectures on the BBC. The political economy of life puts life at the centre instead of the market economy and seeks the restoration and nurturing of health and wholeness rather than the pursuit of personal gain and corporate profit.

A premise of the political economy of life is that there is enough for all; it thus calls for an economy of sufficiency, or 'enoughness'. A first step in the creation of such an economy to provide space for all. This logically requires, as a minimum, a moratorium on all genetic engineering and the creation of a food economy based on what German author Maria Mies calls the "subsistence perspective" (the title of her new book published by Zed Press). In this context, food is recognized as health care and is therefore to be produced organically and available to everyone in the community. In our discussion we recognized that agricultural research would have to take place on farm, drawing on and recognizing women's and traditional knowledge as science and using traditional seeds. You may recognize this as the 'feed the family/community and trade the leftovers' model that we have written and talked about.

The resonance of this language and approach among the whole conference was an overwhelming expression of hope.

B.K.



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Creative Pest Control, RH #182
By Florianne Koechlin

The following report comes from Florianne Koechlin, of Basel, Switzerland, who spent a week in Kenya observing the innovative approaches of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE)towards some of Africa's key problems in agriculture.

The ICIPE specializes in biological pest control, using modern science to search for cheap and sustainable solutions to control stemborers, tsetse-flies, locust-swarms, ticks, fruitflies, anopheles-flies (vectors of malaria) etc. Their collaboration with and capacity-building of farmers is essential.

Stemborers and the Push-Pull System

At a field station of ICIPE near Lake Victoria, the small maize (corn) field in front of us looks dreadful: the plants are only 1 m high, the leaves yellow and full of holes, and there are almost no cobs at all. Close by, Mrs Ouzo, the farmer of these fields, shows us another maize field: the plants are over 2 m high, with dark green leaves and healthy cobs. It's the same maize variety on both fields, planted on exactly the same day. The difference could not be bigger.

The first maize field was destroyed by stem-borers and striga (witchweed), the two most important pests of maize and sorghum in all Africa. Stemborers [referred to in Canada as cornborers, the pest transgenic Bt corn is supposed to deal with] can destroy up to 80% of the crop in no time, the loss of crops due to striga varies from 20 to 80%. If both pests are present at the same time, they can easily destroy the whole crop. Around the second field, Mrs Ouzo had planted 3 rows of napier-grass. "The beauty of this grass is that its odours are attractive to stemborers", says scientist Zeyaur R. Khan. [Remember, corn/maize is a grass.] "The grass then produces a gummy substance that traps the pests. Only about 10% of the stemborer-larvae survive in the end". Between the maize rows, Mrs Ouzo planted desmodium, an earth-covering plant whose odour repels stemborers. She was chosen as one of the first farmers for the project because her fields were most heavily infested by stemborers and striga.

The stemborer is attracted to napier-grass (Pennisetum purpureum) at the outside of the field and repelled by desmodium (Desmodium uncinatum) from the inside of the field. This "push-pull" system was originally developped by ICIPE, starting with the knowledge that stemborers must have been indigenous to East Africa long before maize was introduced there (about 100 years ago). Originally, its host must have been different kinds of wild grass and only later on did it specialize in maize, which had no resistance against it and was more nutritious. For 4 years, Khan and his team selected several species of wild grass with strong stemborer-attracting odours and cultivated them in a garden near the local station. Farmers from the surroundings were invited to choose from the different varieties: they mostly preferred Napier- and Sudan-grass, which both look very similar to maize and are good fodder. Varieties of wild grass looking more like "weed" were passed over.

The selection of "repellent-plants" was successful, too: molasses-grass (Melinis minutiflora) reduced the loss of crop from 40% to 4-6%. . . The silver-leafed desmodium is a good stemborer-repellent, with the added advantage of being a soil-enriching, nitrogen-fixing legume that keeps the soil moist and protects it from erosion. But best of all, desmodium is most effective against Striga, to everybody's surprise. With desmodium, striga is suppressed by a factor of 40 compared to maize monocrop. Although striga is a very beautiful weed with its pink blossoms, it is a deadly plant, being a parasite on maize roots, to say nothing of the fact that a single plant produces 20,000 tiny seeds that disperse easily. In all Africa, problems caused by Striga are increasing. . .

"Last year, I sold my napiergrass and desmodium as fodder for 6000 shillings [about $100]. With this money, I could afford to pay the school fees for my kids. This year, I am planning to produce desmodium seed as well because all of my neighbours want to go for this push-pull system. Maybe I can afford a cow then", says Mrs Ouzo. ICIPE plans to establish the push-pull system not only in further areas in Kenya, but also in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, in close co-operation with the national programmes.

Stemborers and a small wasp

Stemborers have natural enemies which can be used as well: five different species of stemborers exist in Africa. The most aggressive one is the spotted stemborer (Chilo partellus) which was introduced from India/Pakistan to Africa some 70 years ago, so ICIPE scientists went to India to do research in these centers of origin. They found Chilo partellus being a harmless pest kept well under control by several natural enemies. One of them is the little wasp Cotesia Flavipes Cameron: it tracks down the stemborer larvae deep inside the stem and lays its eggs into the pest; these then hatch out and consume the borer from within. After careful testing, this wasp was released on 3 sites in Kenya. By now, the wasps are well established; they not only go for Chilo partellus, but for 3 other stemborer varieties, as well. The latest results show that stemborer infestation could be reduced by 53% in these areas. "Maize only came to East Africa some 100 years ago, and had no resistance against the stemborer. The immigrated stemborer Chilo partellus had no enemies. Any ecological balance that existed between native stemborer and wild grasses was severely disturbed. We try to reintroduce a natural equilibrium into this system", says Bill Overholt.

I wanted to know if Cotesia flavipes could not harm other insects as well. Overholt responded, "The host range of this wasp is limited by its searching behaviour, which restricts its hosts to stemborer larvae found tunnelling inside the stems of larger grasses. And then only certain stemborers, and only the later larvae instars of these, are suitable for the development of the wasp-parasites. We made careful evaluations, and we did not find one other insect matching all these requirements."

ICIPE is working closely together with national programmes in Kenya, as well as in Uganda, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Zanzibar to release the wasp Cotesia in all of these countries.

Stemborers and transgenic Bt-maize from Novartis

A third--and very different--strategy to fight the stemborer consists in introducing genetically engineered Bt-maize. The African stemborer species are close relatives to the European corn-borer, against which the Bt-maize was constructed. The Swiss company Novartis wants to test and introduce Bt-maize in Kenya: in spring 2000, they started a 5-year program with Bt-maize, at a cost of $6.2 million, in co-operation with the Kenyan Research Institute KARE and the Latin-American CYMMIT.

This project was presented at a meeting in March in Nairobi, "which turned into a tribunal against Hans Herren, the director of the ICIPE. They accused him of being an ennemy of Africa, and of assuming Africans were incapable of handling biotechnology" (The Tages-Anzeiger, 21/6/00). Klaus Leisinger, director of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, accused Herren of having gone to the Swiss development agency to get them off GMOs. This is not true. Hans Herren is critical, but he is not a strict enemy of genetic engineering, and all he did was tell an audience of Swiss government officials about his fears: "Possibly, transgenic maize will be part of the solution in the far future. But what about the other problems? The interesting thing about the push-pull-system is that it already exists and the farmers use it. It was developed together with the farmers. With the push-pull method, we have an integrated solution for the problems of the stemborer and striga. We have protein-rich fodder, nitrogen fertilizer and a good protection against soil erosion. All this within one field. It's a system that's enhancing justice and a sustainable agriculture."

ICIPE: integrated research on tropical insects

350 people work at the ICIPE, mostly Africans. The main issues for ICIPE are Africa's most damaging pests, at costs of millions of lives (humans and animals) each year and 30% crop losses on average: the Anopheles mosquito (vector for malaria), the tsetse-fly (vector for human sleeping sickness and several fatal animal diseases, such as nagana in cattle and sura in camels), the tick, the locust, the fruit-fly (which destroys 20-80% of the mango crop each year)--and the stemborer. Useful insects are studied as well: ICIPE initiated local silk production with African silkworms and local honey production. Another main issue at the ICIPE is capacity building (from farmers to PhDs).

Interdisciplinary teams of scientists are doing pioneering work in the area of biological pest-control. They are working on insect behaviour and population ecology, they study the ways insects communicate, they analyze the odours of insects and plants, and search for the molecular conditions of vector mechanisms, they do molecular insect taxonomy and search for ways to protect--and use--the vast biodiversity. All the time, the goal is to use modern science to develop simple and efficient methods that farmers can afford. "We are looking for solutions in nature, we want to understand the system and identify the weak links, where we can intervene. How can we favour natural enemies of the pests, what odours will attract or repel them, how can we reintroduce a better equilibrium?", says director Hans Herren. Francois Omlin, a scientist who started to work at the ICIPE recently, confirms: "I do not know of any other research institute worldwide working in this area in a comparable interdisciplinary way--in this place, molecular biologists are working together with behavioural scientists and entomologists. And furthermore, all of us are in close contact with the farmers."

"Biological pest-control is not as sexy"

Hans Herren won the World Food prize in 1995 because he and his team achieved control over the cassava mealy bug that was endangering the staple crop cassava in large areas of Africa (from Senegal to Mozambique) and threatening some 300 million people. They gained control over the bug with the help of a small wasp--without chemistry, and without any extra costs for the farmers. Thoughtfully, Hans Herren says: "Today, I probably would not get the money for such a big programme. Today, all funds go into biotechnology and genetic engineering. The genetic people would try to construct a cassava that is resistant against the mealy-bug. Biological pest-control, as we do it here at the ICIPE, is not as spectacular, not as sexy. I see a big problem here."

Scents against locust-swarms

In the world of insects, scents play a major role not only as a means of orientation (attracting and repelling 'road signs'). For insects, odours are the most important means of communication. Take, for example, desert locusts. For 10 years, Ahmed Hassanali and his team at the ICIPE have done research on the desert locusts, or more strictly speaking, on their communication. The central question was: how and why do harmless single locusts suddenly turn into most dangerous swarm locusts? What are the mechanisms of 'gregarisation' and the development of locust outbreaks? In general, desert locusts are solitary insects. Over several generations, at particular times, they build small swarms. Sometimes, they form bigger swarms, which can, all of a sudden, turn into one huge swarm of as much as 40 billion insects. In Madagascar, in the years 1997/98, a swarm like this destroyed the vegetation in an area of 1.4 million ha. For ICIPE scientists, odours were the key to understanding swarm formation. Hassanili and his group isolated and identified 5 different sets of chemical messages. These 'morse-codes' regulate behaviour and life-style of desert-locusts. Some odours regulate the behaviour in swarms of young and of adult insects, others determine their behaviour of cohesion, the synchronous maturation, and the communal oviposition. Another volatile chemical attracts the females to their common egg-laying place.

At this point, the scientists intend to intervene: they exposed young hopper-gangs to a very low concentration of odours from adult locusts. The results were most fascinating: the hoppers became hyperactive; they lost their orientation and began to cannibalise. The hopper-swarm--shortly before a huge mega-organism --fragmented into separate parts. The swarm insects turned into solitary insects again, becoming an easy prey for birds. Electrophysiological studies at the University of Lund (Sweden) showed that the odours of adult insects blocked the signal-transfer between the hoppers, resulting in a total loss of communication between the individuals. "As if you cut the telephone line", says Ahmed Hassanili. The moment communication breaks down, nothing happens anymore. The swarm is held together only by intense and constant communication between the insects. The ICIPE now produces the volatile chemical in larger quantities and hopes to test this method during the next outbreak. "This would be a very simple und extremely environmental-friendly method", says Hassanili. "During the last big plague $250 million were used exclusively for insecticides, $12 per ha. We estimate that with the odour-method costs will be at one dollar per ha at the utmost. And all this, without spraying toxic insecticides and without longtime accumulation problems. -- Blauen Institut, 6/00 -www.blauen-institut.ch


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New 'Lease on Life' for Patents
RH #183
by Brewster Kneen

Corporations were created as a way to limit the personal responsibility and liability of their owners/shareholders. No matter how much money a shareholder may take out of a corporation in the form of dividends, if the corporation goes bankrupt the shareholder stands to lose only as much as they have actually invested. If a corporation is sued, the personal assets of the directors and shareholders of the corporation remain beyond reach. This is all backed up by the government authority under which corporations have to be registered and licensed.

The purpose of a corporation is, of course, to make money for its shareholders. This is its fiduciary responsibility under law. As western societies have become satiated with goods and services, the production and trading of which have been the traditional means to corporate wealth, corporations have had to look to new mechanisms of wealth appropriation. An instrument that has been around for some time, but is taking a new lease on life (yes, thats a pun), is the industrial patent. This new lease on life was initiated with the granting of a patent on a purported oil-eating bacteria by the U.S. patent office in 1980, although there was no mad rush to patent life forms for another decade.

Now, however, we hear the corporations and the universities almost daily pleading for increased patent protection on the products and process of biotechnology. We are unremittingly scolded that without the mechanism of patent royalties and licenses to recoup their investments, the corporations and universities will be unable to invest in Progress. (Never mind that an awful lot of this Progress, or of what the corporations want to patent, shouldnt be created or on the market in the first place.)

The obscene race to patent so-called novel life forms seems to be clear proof that we have allowed corporate profit to take priority over everything else, including life itself. And of course it must be protected against the immense risks involved in messing around with living organisms. Limited liability is not enough.

The corporate sector is now engaged in a pernicious strategy to absolve themselves of all responsibility and to require the public to prove social and personal harm if any attempt is made to limit corporate freedom to profit. Common sense says that a corporation should be responsible for proving safety in order to get product approval. In the regulation of products and processes of genetic engineering, however, their aim is to make the regulatory agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) esponsible for proving harm before a product can be kept off the market.

The same approach is being taken with patent infringement: the corporations are arguing that it is up to those accused of infringing patents to prove their innocence, rather than the patent holder having to prove guilt. Given that this is most likely to pit the individual farmer, for example, against the giant corporation, there is little chance that the accused could fight the accusation and prove their innocence. The mere threat of a lawsuit is sufficient to intimidate even the most innocent unless they have access to substantial financial resources. (Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser is the exception to the rule.)

As for the law, the Globe & Mail pointed out in a curious editorial (8/8/00), "biotechnology is both different and new. Canadian legislators enacting the first Patent Act in the middle of the 19th century couldnt have imagined our emerging ability to control biology." In other words, patent law was not written with the intent of covering life forms.


Oncomouse Verdict: Guilty until proven innocent

Alluring Minie

Almost two decades ago Harvard University scientists genetically engineered a mouse to be susceptible to cancers for use in cancer research. Dubbed the oncomouse or cancer-mouse, this animal was created specifically in order to suffer the pain of cancer breast cancer in particular. In 1985 its inventors received a US patent on both the biotech process used to create the oncomouse, and on the mouse itself (and all other mammals genetically altered by the technology). At that time Harvard also applied for a Canadian patent. The Canadian Patent Office accepted the genetic engineering process claims, but rejected claims on the mammals themselves.

Harvard appealed that judgement and in 1995 the trial division of the Federal Court rejected Harvards appeal. Judge Nadons decision focussed on whether the oncomouse was an invention as defined by the Patent Act, and on the extent to which the inventors could control the end product of their invention. He argued:

On even the broadest interpretation I cannot find that a mouse is raw material which was given new qualities from the inventor. Certainly the presence of the myc gene is new, but the mouse is not new nor is it a raw material in the ordinary sense of that phrase. . .

"A complex life form does not fit within the current parameters of the Patent Act without stretching the meaning of the words to the breaking point, which I am not prepared to do. However, if Parliament so wishes, it clearly can alter legislation so that mammals can be patented. . ."

Harvard appealed again, and on August 3rd the Federal Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the earlier decision of Judge Nadon and ordered the Patent Office to issue Canadas first patent on a living animal. In a stunning inversion of the argument of the earlier judgement, the court ruled there may be good reasons that living animals should not be patented, but that is for elected officials, not courts, to decide, saying there is nothing in the Patent Act that outlaws the patenting of animals.

Judge Isaacs, in his dissenting opinion, wrote,

In all the circumstances of this case, including the limited role that our jurisprudence has assigned to the Courts in this area and the serious moral and ethical implications of this subject matter, it seems to me that Parliament is the most appropriate forum for the resolution of the issues in dispute here.
Minnie Masectomy

Canada's commissioner of patents can appeal this latest decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, if there is the bureaucratic and political will to do so. The issue before us, the public, is how to force parliament to consideration appropriate new legislation to guard against the patenting of life forms.


The Mouse that Roared on Animal Pharm
thanks to RAFI, Rural Advancement Foundation International

The decision to grant a patent for this multicellular, higher life form opens the door to patenting any non-human life form. To date, Canada has granted patents for single-cell life forms, including human cell lines, but not for multi-cellular ones. Harvard modified the mouse by inserting a gene to cause it to develop cancer for use in research. However, the patent that was granted extends to all non-human mammals.

The Canadian government has been noticeably silent on the political implications of the case. They have used the courts to sidestep their responsibility to consider the ethics and impact of the patenting of life forms, says Julie Delahanty of RAFI. The court rulings on this case have twice agreed that the issue of life patenting is more rightly decided by Parliament, yet the government continues to avoid the democratic process and is instead hiding beneath the judges robes.

Through other official documents such as the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy, the present government has made it clear that they support the biotechnology industrys desire for patenting anything that moves. The decision in this case leaves them free to avoid broad public debate on the question of patenting life forms in Canada.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) intervened in the case, arguing that the Federal Court decision should be upheld and that the patent should not be granted. Michelle Swenarchuk, Counsel and Director of International Programs for CELA, argued that the Court is not the appropriate body to determine this question, since it was not in the position of having before it all the information required for a full examination of the implications of life form patenting. Rather, the decision should be made by legislative review, after a full public debate of all the implications. . . Only Parliament, not the Courts, can ensure that such safeguards are in place for the public interest.

Like the other copyrighted mouse, Mickey, the oncomouse also serves corporate interests. Although the patent is owned by Harvard Medical School, an earlier commercialization arrangement leaves Du-Pont, not Harvard, entitled to exclusive license of the patent. DuPont has claimed patent protection on any anticancer product ever derived from the mice.

There are currently approximately 250 applications pending in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office dealing with animal patents that have been on hold awaiting this decision. When asked to divulge the nature of these patents, Murray Wilson, a spokesman for the Patent Commissioner, stated: Let your mind run wild what people could dream up for getting the body of an animal to do.

The Canadian lawyers representing Harvard argued that it is in the interest of the Canadian public to allow patents for higher life forms. The Federal Court of Appeal majority decision agreed that without patent protection the creation of inventions would be discouraged.

The court did attempt to draw the line at people and warned that the decision does not endorse patents of human life. The potential extension to human beings is an obvious concern, stated Judge Rothstein The answer is clearly that the Patent Act cannot be extended to cover human beings. Patenting is a form of ownership of property. Ownership concepts cannot be extended to human beings. Critics are not so confident.

The Canadian and other patent offices already allow patents on human genes and cell lines. In 1997, a patent was granted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on a sheep named Dolly, the world s first cloned mammal. The patents held by the Roslin Institute, responsible for the Dolly experiment, cover the use of the technology in all animals, including humans. The Institute claim-ed that they included humans simply to ensure that nobody else could lay claim to human cloning. Such good intentions are dubious given the rate of corporate takeover of small operations and the knowledge that once the legal precedent has been set for the patenting of humans, turning the clocks back is almost impossible. The line between what is human and what is not and therefore what multicellular organisms can be patented is becoming fuzzier everyday. Were only a few genes ahead of being a salamander anyway, says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI. Human genes and cells have already been patented. With the rapid advances in biotechnology and other technologies, its hard to be overly confident that human beings will not eventually, also be the subject of a patent. Once you accept the patenting of life, there is virtually no way to keep the doors shut on the patenting of organs and any other parts of the human body that have a commercial application.

Geno-Types, 10/8/00 (edited)


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Ram's Horn #184

Bird-Watching Cargill
by Brewster Kneen

Last month I went bird watching in San Francisco Bay. The chosen location was on the dykes around Cargill's massive salt ponds which were once ecologically rich wetlands. Getting there was half the fun, as we had to pass through -- actually around -- a huge garbage dump that teemed with trucks like flies on a dead sheep. We had to report our mission to head office on the way in, and report the birds seen on the way out to confirm our legitimacy. But more on this later.

tweet tweet

Redesigning the old corporation
The past few years have been hard on Cargill: sales dropped from their all-time high of $56 billion in 1996 to $46 billion in 1998. 1999 sales were $48 billion. Cargill, however, is not a slow learner. Recognizing that commodity trading -- from real commodities to derivatives and currency 'commodities' -- has its limits, and risks that exceed those normally acceptable to Cargill, and that global commodity trade is not likely to grow significantly, Cargill appears to be repositioning itself to occupy more segments of the industrial food chain. Its press releases now carry the tag line, "Cargill . . . distinctive customer solutions in supply chain management, food applications and health and nutrition."

Cargill is not wasting any time in redesigning itself, as the following news items indicate.

In June, Cargill announced that it was selling its worldwide coffee operation to Ecom Agroindustrial Corp. of Switzerland. (Conjures up a really good cup of coffee, eh?) Then the very next day Cargill announced it would relinquish its role as one of the world's three largest rubber traders. (This news appeared in a tiny item in the Globe & Mail, but can't be found on Cargill's website.)

On September 18th, Cargill announced the sale of its North American seed business, Cargill Hybrid Seeds, to Mycogen Seeds, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, completing the exit from the seeds business it began with the shrewd sale of its non-North American seed business two years ago to Monsanto just before Monsanto's creditors put a halt to its $8.1 billion buying spree.

Dow plans to integrate Cargill Hybrid Seeds into Mycogen Seeds to create a new seed unit under Dow AgroSciences. The purchase will include all seed research, production and distribution facilities of Cargill Hybrid Seeds in the United States and Canada, except for Cargill's InterMountain Canola, Goertzen Seed Research and the Western Canadian seed distribution business. Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed. -- Cargill press release,18/9/00

The next day Cargill announced that it had formed a joint venture with Florida-based SunPure to combine their North American citrus processing businesses to form the largest non-branded citrus processor in North America. Cargill will be the general partner of the venture responsible for day-to-day management.

gbh

Cargill's North American juice operations include a processing plant in Frostproof, Fla., and a juice terminal in Elizabeth, N.J. SunPure's operations include a citrus processing plant in Avon Park, Fla., and the world's largest grapefruit processing plant in Fort Pierce, Fla. SunPure focuses on flavour ingredients, beverage applications and citrus processing. This is the second joint venture announced by Cargill and SunPure this year. In February, the two companies formed Natural Cloud (see RH # 180) which manufactures and markets a functional beverage ingredient made from citrus peel. The companies intend to continue operating the Natural Cloud venture as a separate entity. --Cargill press release 19/8/00

Another 'sideways' expansion is the addition of lysine production to its corn wet milling behemoth in Blair, Nebraska, on the Missouri River. Cargill has formed a joint venture, Midwest Lysine, with Degussa-Huls Corp of Germany to manufactures Biolys 60, Degussa-Huls' premium lysine amino acid for use in livestock feeds. The production facility is adjacent to Cargill's corn wet milling complex, which provides the dextrose that Midwest Lysine relies on as the primary ingredient for its lysine-production process. --Cargill press release 20/8/00

This is Cargill's first involvement in lysine production, though as a feed manufacturer and trader, Cargill has long dealt in lysine on a considerable scale. Nevertheless, Cargill managed to escape from the charges of price-fixing that eventually brought Archer Daniels Midland $100 million in fines and substantial prison sentences for the senior executives involved (Remember Mark Whitacre, ADM executive and apparent embezzler turned FBI mole? He's one of the ones in jail.) Other companies were also convicted, but Cargill, while named initially as part of the price-fixing scheme, soon dropped -- or was dropped -- from the case.

Venturing into a new segment of the food business, Cargill has formed a joint venture with The Hudson Companies of Alabama to acquire Fontina Foods, Inc., which provides a full line of refrigerated, fresh processed stabilized herbs and spices, premium refrigerated herb & spice blends, pesto sauces, proprietary sauces, flavor systems and marinades to the food service industry. "This investment fits perfectly into Cargill's goal to be the premier provider of customer solutions for the agri-food chain," said a Cargill spokesman. --Cargill press release 23/8/00, see www.cargill.com

The best indicator of Cargill's understanding of where global food is heading, however, is found on a dedicated Cargill website, http://www.innovasure.com, which opens with the following: "Dynamic changes are redefining the food industry. Consumers are paying more attention to what's inside the foods they eat. And in many countries, regulators are calling for more information on food labels. To succeed in this evolving marketplace, you need a supplier who understands the new issues you face. A supplier who can help you satisfy the demands of both consumers and regulators"

The various pages of the website then explain the InnovaSure (Innovation + Assurance) IP system Cargill has built around its subsidiary, Illinois Cereal Mills.

"We go to excruciating lengths to ensure that the identity of our corn products remains intact from the time the seed is selected, until InnovaSure products arrive at your door.. . We have been perfecting our fully traceable, fully documented systems for many years; leveraging world-class technology to bring you identity preserved products that help you to succeed with your customers."

"Traceability is the cornerstone of our identity preservation system. We have the most stringent IP protocols and traceability systems in the industry. . . All documents, samples and test results are retained for a minimum of two years and are available for third-party inspection."

"Only non-genetically enhanced (conventionally bred) varieties are included on the approved InnovaSure hybrid list. . . InnovaSure seed suppliers must be able to ensure the integrity of their products is maintained and that they have complete traceability throughout their system."

"We partner with more than 400 professional growers. . . Growers document that fields designated for IP corn have been free of genetically enhanced corn for at least one year. Growers identify the corn hybrids planted by their neighbours. They maintain proper buffer zones and submit a map showing what hybrids are planted in surrounding fields."

the kite

At the end, Cargill identifies itself as "a global supplier of branded and non-branded food ingredient products to food processors, the food service industry and retail food customers."

Clearly Cargill has never believed the biotech industry's line about how GE crops and foods cannot be segregated. Add to this the item about SDI, and it is obvious that the biotech industry is simply a pathological liar. Cargill is no corporate fool. GE foods can be tested and segregated. Cargill's activities described thus far may not attract public resistance but elsewhere life is more challenging. In Venezuela, residents of a coastal region are strongly resisting the expansion of Cargill's salt-making activities into the wetlands of Lake Maricaibo's estuary. (see our January/00 issue, RH #176). At the same time, a quieter struggle is underway over the future of the one-time wetlands of south San Francisco Bay.

That's why, as I planned to attend a conference in San Francisco in September, I leapt at the opportunity to learn about the situation first hand. In fact, flying into San Francisco airport as the plane made a wide sweep south past the Bay and then north into the airport, I could get a bird's eye view of Cargill's 29,000 acres (11,600 ha) of salt flats (already within the designated boundaries of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Reserve), that occupy almost all of the south Bay.

brewster flies a kite

Later, I was taken on a guided "bird-watching" tour (not by Cargill) of the mammoth salt ponds, which were all wetlands gradually dyked and turned into salt concentration and crystalization ponds from the middle of the last century. The ponds are currently producing about one million tons of salt a year with a value of about $20 per ton for the raw salt. And if you wonder why you do not see Cargill salt in the supermarket, it is because it goes through Morton's packaging plant which is right next to Cargill's refinery on the edge of the ponds and appears as Morton Salt, which Cargill does not own.

A variety of individuals and organizations are now trying to get at least the 17,000 acres of these salt ponds which Cargill uses but does not own, restored as wetlands. (Cargill owns the other 12,000 acres.) Their bargaining chip is the fact that San Francisco Airport would like to build a new runway, and the only way it can do so is by filling in about 400 acres of the Bay to the north of Cargill's salt ponds, which go as far north as Redwood City. To get permission to fill the Bay, the airport has to mitigate the environmental consequences of its proposal. The mitigation proposal prepared by Ralph Nobles on behalf of citizens' groups calls for restoration of all 29,000 acres of Cargill's salt ponds to their natural wetlands condition. As the Bay area environmentalists see it, it is simply outrageous that a private company should control such a large area of what once were public lands and marshes.

I got involved in all this, by the way, because my book, Invisible Giant, Cargill and its Transnational Strategies, is mandatory reading for those involved in this kind of struggle, whether in the Bay area, Venezuela, India . . . or, for that matter, Alberta.

I recently had a call from Alliance, Alberta, about 150km SE of Edmonton, in the area where Taiwan Sugar would like to build a mega hog production facility, having been turned down in southern Alberta already. The caller reminded me that I had written about the close relations between Cargill and Taiwan Sugar in Invisible Giant. I had forgotten. In fact, Cargill had, and probably still has, although the information is not readily available, a joint venture in Taiwan with Taiwan Sugar to produce pork. So now one wonders about Cargill's role in the desire of Taiwan Sugar to build mega hog facilities in Alberta, where Cargill is already a major beef packer and feedlot and feed mill operator.

Behind these struggles, whether in Venezuela, California or Alberta, is the radical difference in outlook between the corporate industrializers and developers, who view all of Creation as nothing more than resources to be exploited for profit, and the rest of the people who respect and wish to nurture and live with the world about them.

Unfortunately, Invisible Giant is not available through bookstores, but we do have copies at $15 postpaid.


The Ram's Horn is not copyrighted. Reproduction is authorized if the source is indicated. Please forward a copy of the publication to us, and link to us if you are on the Web.


Home | Who We Are | Current Issue | Back Issues | Books


Issue 186


A monthly journal of food system analysis - BACK ISSUE -

Home
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Current Issue
Back Issues
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The Ram's Horn is supported solely by subscriptions & donations. If you are able to give a higher amount, your gift will subsidize a subscription for someone in need.

Subscription fees are

  • Canada: $20 regular, $50 patron
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  • Outside North America: US$26 (airmail delivery)

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V0E 2W0
phone/fax: 250-675-4866
email: ramshorn@ramshorn.bc.ca


"GMO's Are Dead"

"GMOs Are Dead" by Brewster Kneen

The biotech corporations that just three years ago started calling themselves the "life sciences" companies are in the midst of a major makeover, as the promised synergies between pharmaceuticals and agricultural biotechnology have not panned out. At the same time, they continue their deliberate strategy of fatalization: to induce public fatalism and despair so that we will believe that the onward march of GE cannot be stopped.

DNA OR TNC?A year and a half ago (12/7/99), the Deutsche Bank issued a report to investors titled "DuPont - Ag Biotech: Thanks, But No Thanks." Without a crystal ball it is hard to tell whether that was just sound analysis or if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, it was a sound prediction. The report contained an appendix dated May 21 entitled "GMOs Are Dead." Among other things, it said, "GMOs have just crossed the line. Thirty days ago, the investment community accorded only positive attributes . . . to GMO corn and soybeans. . . Today, the term GMO has become a liability. We predict that GMOs . . . will now be perceived as a pariah. . . Increasingly, GMOs are, in our opinion, becoming a liability to farmers. . . 'Don't expect us to take a bullet for your GMO products.' So said a representative of Nestl³."

Today it seems that only die-hards like the Canola Council will say that GMO crops have not become a pariah. All the major corporations, with the apparent exception of Bayer, are restructuring and refocusing their businesses and trying, as politely as possible, to usher agbiotech and ag chemicals out the door or into the back room so the companies can concentrate on pharmaceuticals, where the real money (double-digit return on investment) is.

"People today want to have a pure pharma focus, which is why Novartis and Aventis are getting out of chemicals," said a Scottish fund manager. He was commenting on the future of Bayer, which has stuck to a conglomerate model while other European chemical-pharmaceutical firms have broken themselves up. -GM, 9/12/00

The attempt of the biotech industry to clothe itself in the mantle of "life sciences" began in March, 1997, when Novartis ran a series of full-page ads in major media promoting its skills and products in "the science of life". In January, 1998, Monsanto announced in full-page ads, "Life begins at 97" and explained, "After a 97-year history of success, we have a new business focus: life sciences." The same ads introduced its nifty little vine logo and its blasphemous motto, "Food.Health.Hope."

By the summer of 1999, Monsanto was on the ropes, with a debt of $8.1 billion. It tried to sell itself to American Home Products, which owned Cyanamid (agrotoxins) at the time but that foundered, apparently on the rocks of big egos. Finally, at the very end of 1999, Pharmacia rescued Monsanto, sort of. What Pharmacia was after, however, was not the ag biotech for which Monsanto is notorious, but rather its drug division, Searle, with its blockbuster arthritis drug Celebrex - notwithstanding the very serious "side effects" of the drug. This became apparent when Pharmacia announced that it would set Monsanto up as a public company while retaining ('for now', in fine print) 80% ownership.

By this time, Searle had been absorbed by Pharmacia and Monsanto was a stripped down business consisting of seeds, ag biotech and Roundup. Part of the stripping down was the disposal of its CEO, Robert Shapiro, who was replaced by long-time Monsanto executive Henry Verfaillie. In mid November, Pharmacia made an initial public offering (IPO) of Monsanto stock. Apparently it did not go over very well with investors. Pharmacia still owns 85% of the company, and the other 15% went entirely to senior Monsanto employees on some kind of stock option deal. (Verfaillie himself bought $7 million worth.) In other words, Deutsche Bank's analysis remains sound. And if you go to the totally revamped website www.monsanto.com you will find the vine, but not "Food.Health.Hope."

"Monsanto manages its business in two segments: Agricultural Productivity, and Seeds and Genomics. The Agricultural Productivity segment consists primarily of crop protection products and animal agriculture businesses. The Seeds and Genomics segment is comprised of global seeds and related biotechnology traits businesses, and genetic technology platforms."

"Year-to-date, sales in the Agricultural Productivity segment increased by 8% to $3.1 billion compared with sales in the first nine months of 1999. The increase was led by a 5% increase in the sales of Roundup and other glyphosate products to $2.1 billion. . . Worldwide volumes of Roundup have grown 18 % year-to-date."

"The company continues to strategically shift more of its seed offerings to those with biotechnology traits."

- Monsanto third quarter 2000 report, 30/10/00

The Pharmacia-Monsanto split off is not unique. In fact, it typifies what is taking place across the board with the big "life sciences" corporations.

The giants Novartis and AstraZeneca have gotten together to create Syngenta, to carry on Novartis' agrotoxin and seeds businesses and AstraZeneca's agrotoxin business (a 61%-39% partnership) while the mother companies focus on drugs and human 'health' activities. (Advanta's seed business was already a 50/50 partnership with Dutch co-op Cosun so it was not included in Syngenta.)

Aventis, so much in the news over StarLink corn, is the product of the merger of Hoechst and Rhªne-Poulenc in 1998, but it also included, in some way, the Hoechst-Schering partnership, AgrEvo. Now the agbiotech and agrotoxin activites of Aventis and AgrEvo are being hived off as Agreva.

"I welcome the move. We don't want to buy conglomerates anymore," said Eric Bernhardt, a fund manager with Clariden private bank in Zurich. . . "Agriculture is a low growth area and has been dragging down the rest of the company. The market growing only 2% to 3% a year against the 11% or so revenue growth expected from pharmaceuticals." -Reuters, 15/11/00

The right-wing business weekly The Economist (18/11/00) described recent events candidly:

"Aventis announced it will sell its agricultural business by the end of next year. . . Other nervous companies include AstraZeneca and Novartis, which agreed to merge their agribusiness last year. Their bio-tech baby Syngenta was a stock market flop, capitalising at just over half of the expected $10 billion when it was floated on November. GE drug company Pharmacia bought the infamous bio-tech food group Monsanto, and is now expected to sell it within two years. Smaller company DuPont is also expected to sell its GE drug-making business, as is German company BASF whose drug division is small and unsuccessful. Bayer is the only company soldiering on with both GE agricultural and drug divisions, as the farm side is more profitable than its pharmaceuticals."

Since Aventis has been much in the news, here are more details about the company to illustrate the troubled history of biotechnology:

Aventis was launched in December 1999 through the merger of Hoechst AG of Germany and Rhªne-Poulenc SA of France.

Rhªne Poulenc was founded in 1858 as an apothecary shop in Paris. By the early 1900s the company had developed a synthetic drug to combat previously untreatable syphilis. Hoechst also traces its roots to the mid-19th century, when it started making chemicals in Germany. In 1925, it joined with drugmaker Bayer A.G. and chemical manufacturer BASF to become part of I.G. Farbenindustrie A.G. I.G. Farben, as that company was known, was broken up by Allied forces after World War II because of its involvement in producing gases used in Hitler's death camps. Its 'gases' were the forerunners of modern-day agro-toxins. Neither Hoechst, Bayer nor BASF were held responsible for I.G. Farben's wartime activities and the three were allowed to maintain their businesses.

75% of Aventis' $17 billion in sales in 1999 came from its drugs business. The rest was from its agrotoxins sector. Kuwait's government-run petroleum company is the largest single shareholder of Aventis.

-Agribusiness Examiner # 95, from a profile of Aventis by S.P. Dinen in the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, 5/11/00

"Aventis CropScience (the crop protection and crop production unit of Aventis), brought together the crop protection business of Rhªne-Poulenc with the crop protection, seeds and crop improvement activities of Hoechst Schering AgrEvo. Schering AG, Hoechst's partner in AgrEvo, owns a 24 percent interest." www.aventis.com

The Aventis website also provides the following insights into its current - ambitious, can we say? - corporate philosophy:

"Our challenge is life."

"We've developed innovative pharmaceuticals for the treatment of allergies - so that everyone can have pleasant feelings about nature." [photo of boy and girl smirking against leafy background]

"We develop innovative crop protection and improved plants - so tomorrow we can all live better." [photo of woman in wheat field]

"As we begin the new millennium, dramatic advances in science and technology are unravelling the very secrets of the processes of life. Important scientific discoveries are being made, and the potential gain in knowledge is our key to massive advancements in the quality of everyday living."

"Our extensive commitment to R&D, powerful global marketing network and comprehensive product portfolio, are providing us with the necessary tools to skillfully confront and alleviate the complex problems facing biological life today."

Meanwhile, the company is being taken apart, according to an Aventis press release (15/11/00 ) also on their website. Could this have anything to do with the still-to-be-concluded StarLink episode?

"The Supervisory Board of Aventis approved a strategic focus on pharmaceuticals on 15 November. The agricultural business unit, Aventis CropScience, which has been operating as an independent legal entity since Aventis was founded a year ago, is to be divested . . . under the name "Agreva". The divestment process is expected to be implemented by the end of 2001."

"Since the creation of Aventis, market consolidation in both the pharma and agriculture sector has accelerated. By effecting the separation, Aventis will achieve strategic flexibility, clarity and enhanced performance focus for both businesses."

"The Animal Nutrition business is also in the process of being sold. The 50 percent stake in the animal health joint venture Merial will be retained. The divestments of the remaining industrial activities, namely the interests in Messer and Wacker, are expected to progress as previously communicated."

Our family doctor, Warren Bell, reports that he perused the list of advertisers in a recent issue of the Canadian Family Physician, and found: AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bayer Inc., and Novartis Pharma Canada Inc. Then he looked on the inside cover of the brochure of the Crop Protection Institute, which he had just received. The names seemed familiar: Zeneca Agro, Aventis CropScience Canada Co., Bayer Inc. and Novartis Crop Protection Inc./Novartis Seeds Inc.

How do we interpret all this?

First of all, one has to ask serious questions about the intelligence of the drug/biotech/agrotoxin industry. They apparently fell for their own line of wishful thinking that combining pharmaceuticals and agbiotech, and christening them "life sciences," would produce magical synergies and fantastic profits. Perhaps they were overly influenced by the apparent nonchalance with which the public appears to accept high-tech drugs. They failed to take notice (as Deutsche Bank did) of the changing public consciousness against GE foods - and, indeed, the "medical model" of high-tech and drug-dependent therapies for treatment of illness - in favour of organic food and alternate therapies which emphasise health promotion.

Second, if these companies seem all-powerful, look at the changes taking place in the past three years. Consider carefully the case of Monsanto. It is not dead and buried - unfortunately; but it is taking a great deal more public money to keep all this going than the capitalists are willing to provide by way of public investment. One has to ask, where would agbiotech be without the Rockefeller Foundation?

Third, observe the current corporate strategy of shifting both business activity and public appeal away from GE foods to the human 'health' business. The corporate emphasis now is on selling the public on the personal, individual 'benefits' of tailor-made drugs, selected and improved human embryos, and organ transplants from GE pigs (zenotransplants). This appeal to individual 'benefit' has its obvious corollary in the ethic of capitalist greed: more for me. Hence the hiving off of the agbiotech and agrotoxin subsidiaries.

Fourth, the pernicious and anti-social character of the corporate strategy should not be underestimated. It is deliberate, and it is accompanied by a parallel government strategy of gaining support for the drug and biotech industry by appealing to individual and special interest group benefits, while building the appearance of public support through a highly manipulative process of 'consultation' with 'stakeholder' groups and carefully selected individuals-who may have a tendency to be flattered by being fingered by the government as 'important' people to be consulted. The way the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee was formed more than a year ago is a good example, as is its current manoeuver to form an advisory body to the advisory committee. In other words, what we are witnessing is another dimension of privatization, accompanied by the further marginalization of Parliament and other institutions that are supposed to serve the public, in the interests of increasing corporate control and profit, or 'shareholder value.'

Fifth, we need to recognize the strategy of fatalization: the attempt by the biotech industry to convince us all that it is too late to halt the advance of biotechnology. This has been an important aspect of the industry strategy for years. As I wrote in Farmageddon, senior AgrEvo and Monsanto executives confirmed this for me in 1997; and if you think about the StarLink episode, one can be sure that Aventis knew exactly what it was doing in 1998 when StarLink was grown on 10,000 acres in the U.S. No one was looking for contamination that year, nor the next when 250,000 acres of StarLink were grown without approval for human food use. Clearly Aventis was hoping to pollute the food system so significantly that by the time it was discovered it would be impossible to clean it out of the system. Then Aventis could just say, 'sorry about that folks, but it's too late to turn back.' When it did become public, Aventis' first move was to ask EPA to declare the presence of StarLink corn an "unavoidable contaminant" - just as Aventis intended it to be. (The suspicious mind also has to wonder whether USDA and EPA officials did not know about it or were willing participants in Aventis' scheme all along.)

Yes, what I am suggesting is that there has been a conspiracy between the biotech industry and government agencies in Canada and the US to fatalize the public into throwing up our hands in despair. That is why the industry and its government agents have been adamantly opposed to labelling. That is why AgCanada and the CFIA pushed the GE crops through the regulatory process as fast as possible. That is why AgCanada ten years ago decided to base biotech regulation on the existing legislation rather than setting up a proper regulatory regime. They did not want one.

I am suggesting that Monsanto and everyone else knew GE corn pollen would wander and that buffer zones were inadequate. They knew there would be transgenic canola everywhere - and they wanted it to be everywhere.

It has all been part of a carefully thought out plot to engender public fatalism.

But it didn't work.

Why would anyone want to be impressed with an industry that has such a poor grasp of reality that all the major players have to make a radical course change after less that three years of proclaiming themselves the source of life? Little wonder that Deutsche Bank said, two years ago, "GMOs are dead."

So let's carry on with the burial.

-B.K.


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Home | Who We Are | Current Issue | Back Issues | Books

1999

Tables of Contents


May 1999 to December 1999

Following are the contents of some of our recent issues. Feel free to read the feature article of that issue by clicking on the red titles. If the articles pique your interest, and you'd like to see more, please contact us for a subscription or sample copy. We can also help with serious research. See also our Current Issue page.

#169, May 1999
Canola ­ is it still the best choice?

#170, June 1999>
Labelling and Liability (Codex Alimentarius)

#171, July 1999
Labelling of GE Foods: Consumer "Choice" or Boycott?

#172, August 1999
Eating Plastic Revisited

#173, September 1999
Voluntary Labelling Scam

#174, October-November 1999
Shifty Lobbyists (How the industry promotes biotech, despite reality)

#175, December 1999
Clean Spuds (McCain's rejects GE potatoes)

 


 

Issue 169: Canola - is it still the best choice?

Canola

For the past two years, on the advice of the industry's seed suppliers, buyers and processors(represented by the Canola Council of Canada) there has been no segregation of the GE canola crop fromthe from the remaining non-GE canola. Given the genetic instability of canola (one of the reasons it hasbeen a leading victim of genetic engineering), it is far from certain that there is not 'confusion' orpollution occurring in the field not just between GE and nearby weeds and other crops, but betweenGE and non-GE canola.

This deliberate confusion extends to the grocery store shelf as an inevitable consequence, making itimpossible to label the product properly and adequately even if the industry thought the public shouldknow what it is buying. This puts people who might otherwise like to buy canola oil in the position ofhaving to turn away from all canola oil that is not labelled as 'certified organic'. There is both 'clean'and organic GE free canola grown in Canada, but to the best of our knowledge there is only one verysmall processor in Calgary handling organic canola. Otherwise it goes to the US for processing. The fourbig processors are part of the problem, since they are so big that segregation is not economically feasible.

Now Canada's canola industry is beginning to recognize it may have a problem on its hands. Itdidn't have to be this way. The canola industry could have said to Monsanto, AgrEvo, PGS and othersa few years ago, Thanks but no thanks. We've worked hard to build the reputation of canola as thehealthiest of edible oils on the basis of the best scientific information available and the public isresponding appropriately at home and abroad. We are doing well in the development of desirableagronomic characteristics such as extended growing range and increased yield. We do not want tojeopardize our achievements. We do not want to mess with your genetic manipulations for corporateprofit. Go sell your wares to the corn producers or the soybean producers. (If they bite, their loss will beour gain.)

Canola itself was not the product of genetic engineering. It was produced by means of traditionalplant selection and breeding, starting with the rapeseed varieties that were already cultivated inCanada and helped along with some newfangled lab technology in the late 1950s and early 1960s :

"Keith Downey's scientific work, itself based on his half-seed technique (which used the simpletechnology of an eye-surgeon's scalpel), was dependent on a more complex technology. The analysis ofa half-seed's worth of oil only became possible when the analytical technology of Gas LiquidChromatography became available to him. Prior to this, it took two pounds of oil and two weeks, ratherthan one half-seed and 15 minutes, to obtain an analysis. (The Rape of Canola, p.9)
But it was not just a matter of technology, contrary to the current ideology of science andbiotechnology; it was also a matter of how the work was financed and how knowledge and informationwere openly shared.

Canada Packers was the major food processor in Canada during those years. Bart Teasdale, whoworked in the Canada Packers lab trying to develop processing techniques that could transformrapeseed into an acceptable oil for margarine and salad oil, described the working environment at thetime:

"The financing of our research was quite informal, surprisingly so ... we were just allowed toproceed as necessary... during the 60s and 70s we really didn't have a budget ... The individual plantmanagers were paying the bills ... and they were willing at that time just to say, Yes, we want rapeseed,we want the improvements made, and if this is part of what you have to do, go ahead and do it." (RoC, p.43)
The overall milieu was one of a self-selected group of government, industry and university men ofhighly similar background working together at a common task, largely unconcerned as to who got thecredit, and, apparently, largely without institutional chauvinism. Their institutions were regarded asthe tools or facilitators of the research, not its proprietors. ... Patent attorneys were not involved andPlant Breeders Rights were not even on the horizon. (RoC,p.36-7)

Burton Craig, who worked in the Prairie Regional Lab in Saskatoon at the time, described how this

affected his early work: "A lot of people found the funding themselves for their particular area, andindustry was very good in providing materials. ... There was no direction. The people who wereinterested got together and went ahead and did it." (RoC,p.37)
Such informality did not last long, regarding either money or information. Keith Downey lamented:
"It used to be that we could say to the outside funders, give us enough to get the hands to run this stuff. We won't worry about supplies or travel, we have that in our basic budget, we just need hands. ... Nowbasically the outside money is running the whole show, and you have to stop and say to yourself, wellhow much outside money is really good, how much control do you have, are we doing technology or arewe doing science. I feel today the proportion of science we are doing is getting smaller and smaller andwe are just responding to technology requirements in the way we are approaching our work." (RoC,p.37-8)

By 1974, the public sector researchers, the processors, and farmers had produced an agronomicallysatisfactory rapeseed with the desired oil and meal characteristics and they began to use the name'canola' to refer to the new varieties meeting their quantifiable standards.

The name 'canola' was initially registered by the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association for reference to oil, meal, protein extractions, seed and seed hulls from or of varieties with 5% or less erucic acid in the oil and three milligrams per gram or less of the normally measured glucosinolates in the meal. The canola trademark was transferred to the Canola Council in 1980. ... In 1986 the canola trademark was amended by the Trade Marks Branch of Consumer and Corporate Affairs to indicate that canola oil must contain less than 2% erucic acid and the solid component of the seed must contain less than 30 micromoles per gram of glucosinolates. In response to a petition from Canada, the United States, in 1985, affirmed low erucic acid rapeseed oil (LEAR oil) as a food substance Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). The use of 'canola' on food labels in the U.S. was cleared late in 1988. (RoC p.27)

It was not long, however, before Monsanto, opportunistic as always, saw the potential in canola.As Monsanto Canada's director of agricultural research and development, Harvey Glick told me in 1992,the company had been working since 1987 to 'improve' canola. "The first improvement we would liketo bring to canola is a trait that allows it to be sprayed with Roundup herbicide. ... We are not doing ourown breeding, but we are saying to the breeders, you develop the best lines of canola and we will giveyou this gene." I asked Glick if he really meant 'give', and he responded, "We are still discussing thiswith the seed companies." (p.64-5) It is now quite obvious that Monsanto had no intention of givinganything away, and there are now more than 200 varieties of canola on the Canadian market, makingit impossible for any farmer to make an 'informed choice', regardless of how the seeds might be labelled. (Statistics Canada estimates that 14 million acres will be seeded to canola in Canada this year,compared to 13.5 million in 1998, with approximately half of this being transgenic, herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) varieties sold by a number of companies, including Cargill.

Now a Reuters news release reports that "Escalating public concern over Genetically ModifiedOrganisms (GMOs) in the food sector has prompted Canada's canola industry to launch an educationprogram and warn that the banning of GMOs would lead to higher costs for canola consumers."

Mike Jubinville of ProFarmer Canada, another farmer advisory service, believes that there maybe a slowdown in the usage of the GE canola when the public outcry hits its peak, but "there is littleturning back now. ...The level of consumer acceptance worldwide may take some time, but it is boundto happen," he said. "And while Europe is the real bastion of resistance, eventually that obstinacy willbe eroded." (source: Reuters, 17/5/99, email)

Of course, there is a elegantly simple solution to all this: ban GE canola altogether. Think of howsimple life would become for the canola growers, processors, and the public if GE were simply out of thequestion.

So if you are feeling obstinate, and not particularly in need of erosion, you might want to shareyour obstinance (and concerns) with store managers, the Canola Council, the Canadian OilseedProcessors Association, or one or more of the distributors of canola oil, such as Sunfresh(Weston/Loblaw/Superstore), Canbra, etc. just use the address on the bottle.


Sample letter or postcard:
Address to:
Canola Council, 400 - 167 Lombard Ave, Winnipeg, MB, R3B 0T6

Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, 2150 - 360 Main St., Winnipeg, MB, R3C 3Z3

As a consumer, I am happy with the quality and versatility of canola oil and am proud of its Canadian origins. However, I want you to know that I do not want to eat genetically engineered food. I am aware that these products are approved by government agencies. Nevertheless, I will not be buying any more canola oil unless it is certified organic or comes from a company with a clear policy and procedure in place to exclude GMOs from their products. I am looking forward to receiving your response on this issue.

Issue 170: Labelling and Liability

The 27th session of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labelling met in Ottawa, 27-30 April of this year. (Canada is the host country for this aspect of the work of Codex.) Canada, along with a number of other countries, went to the meeting with draft recommendations, which were complementary, if not identical, to the U.S. draft. Codex Alimentarius was established in 1962 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations "to guide and promote the elaboration and establishment of definitions and requirements for foods, to assist in their harmonization and, in doing so, to facilitate international trade". (This is Codex Alimentarius, 1995) Like other international agencies and processes of a governmental or para-statal nature, very often the real power points and issues of Codex may be hidden in subtle linguistic formulations. Shifts in political position may never be stated, but the keen observer can note them in changes in language, as with the April meeting of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling.

Canada went into the meeting in full agreement with the US, apparently, that there can and should be NO labelling of 'foods produced through biotechnology.' This phrase, which does not distinguish between product and process, has been the terminology used in Codex up to now.

Canada came out of the meeting as chair of a committee charged with trying to negotiate a way out of the impasse over the labelling of GE foods which was created by the intransigence of the US and its corporate sponsors that there can be no labelling of GE foods on the one hand, and the insistence by the vast majority of Codex members that there must be labelling.

These unofficial definitions may help you interpret the following discussion:
€ modern biotechnology: genetic engineering [warning, a dirty word]
€ substantial equivalence: we say it's the same
€ no longer equivalent: the regulator has to prove it is different
€ sound science: magic blessing

Going into the meeting, Canada's recommendations included the following: "Canada considers that Codex standards must be based on sound science and be consistent with international trade agreements... Canada ... supports the proposed mandatory labelling of foods and food ingredients obtained by modern biotechnology ... which are 'no longer equivalent' to the existing or conventionally produced food or food ingredients in respect to composition, nutritional value, or intended use."

This recommendation was elaborated in a note: Foods obtained through modern biotechnology are no longer equivalent if it can be demonstrated, through an appropriate analysis of data, that the characteristics assessed, in comparison to the conventional comparator (conventional foods or food components already available in the food supply), are different with respect to accepted limits of natural variation for that food. Three items are notable here: 1) the adherence to traditional reductionist logic that it is only the object, the product, that counts; 2) the use of the term 'modern biotechnology' in order to avoid having to speak the more accurate phrase 'genetic engineering'; and 3) the shift from use of the term 'substantial equivalence' to 'no longer equivalent'.

What lies behind this are the issues of 'burden of proof' and liability.

Burden of responsibility

In its draft comments prior to the meeting, the United States pointed to the dissatisfaction of many countries and public interest groups with the idea of 'substantial equivalence' and said that it, "believes that currently there is still a lack of uniformity in the international community regarding the application of substantial equivalence, and it would be difficult for Codex to reach a consensus on the use of the term 'substantial equivalence' for the purpose of labelling foods obtained through biotechnology... Thus, the United States believes that the term 'substantial equivalence' should be removed from the proposed draft recommendations, and the proposed draft recommendations should be modified as follows: 'When a food or food ingredient obtained through biotechnology ... differs significantly from a corresponding existing food or food ingredient...'"

Up to now, when Monsanto has applied for approval of a transgenic product it has had to show that the product is 'substantially equivalent' to its natural counterpart in order to avoid regulation of the product as a 'novel food'. The burden of proof, as weak and unscientific as it was, rested on Monsanto. But the company, and others, have wanted to shift the burden of proof, and with it the liability in case of bad consequences, to the regulator. To avoid drawing public attention to the matter, Monsanto and the industry as a whole have tried to make subtle changes in language, such as from 'substantial equivalence' to 'no longer equivalent.' If accepted, this would mean that it is now up to the regulator to find, or prove, the product in question 'no longer equivalent' to an accepted food. This shift would also mean that liability for the product would rest on the regulator, not the company, which is the whole point.

The drafters of the US position obviously knew that they were using the acknowledged disagreement over the term 'substantial equivalence' as an excuse to replace it with 'differs significantly' in order to avoid public discussion and any democratic interference, while shifting of the burden of proof and liability. The desire to do so is, of course, an interesting acknowledgement that there may well be consequences of genetic engineering for which the industry does not want to be held responsible!

The United States argued its position in these words: "The United States does not believe that disclosure of the method of production should be required. ... The United States has seen no evidence to support that, as a class, foods obtained through biotechnology are inherently less safe or differ in quality or any other manner from foods obtained through conventional methods."

The U.S., with its customary arrogance, then adds that international standards that are not consistent with US domestic requirements are ipso facto 'impractical and inequitable': "Mandatory labelling of the method of plant modification would be inconsistent with applicable United States laws and resulting food labelling regulations and policy. ... Providing information regarding the method of production on the food label would be highly impractical and inequitable."

The logical alternative not to engage in genetic engineering in the first place is clearly beyond con-sideration, however rational it might be.

The outcome of the April meeting certainly was not what might have been predicted. By the end of the meeting only Argentina supported the US, while Canada and everyone else distanced themselves from the hard-line position of the US. (Argentina's position is easily explained by the figures on page 6 indicating that it is the second largest producer of transgenic crops after the US.) The chair ruled that the meeting "agreed to return to Step 3 for redrafting." In other words, the issue was at a standstill.

The following "Proposed Draft Recommendations for the Labelling of Foods Obtained Through Biotechnology" are from the official report of the meeting:

(41) The Delegation of the United States pointed out that there was no scientific basis to require systematic labelling of foods containing or obtained from genetically modified organisms and that only those foods which differed significantly from their conventional counterpart as regards composition, use or nutritional quality should be specifically labelled. The Delegation also stressed the difficulties of implementing systematic labelling requirements, indicated that distinctions based on the mode of production might imply that foods produced from GMOS were not safe, and expressed concern about the possibility of misleading negative labelling by competitors. This position was supported by the Observers from IFCGA, ASSINSEL and CRN [all industry organizations] who stressed that labelling of all foods produced from GMOs would be contrary to the general principles of labelling in Codex, would provide misleading information to consumers and would not be enforceable in practice.

(42) The Delegation of Argentina stressed the importance of the role of science and risk analysis as a basis for decisions in Codex, and pointed out that there was no scientific basis for requesting information on the mode of production in the specific case of biotechnology, especially as this would not offer any additional guarantee concerning the safety of the food.

(43) The Delegation of Germany, speaking on behalf of the member states of the European Union, indicated its clear preference for the alternative proposal based on the principle of mandatory labelling, noting however that this proposal required some amendments. The Observer from the EC indicated that, in order to allow consumers to make an informed choice, EC legislation required systematic labelling of all foods or ingredients consisting of or containing GMOs and labelling of foods and ingredients produced from GMOs but not containing them, when they were not any longer equivalent to existing foods or ingredients. The Observer stated that the notion of equivalence was currently evaluated according to the presence in foods or ingredients of DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification, and that these provisions allowed to take into account specific health problems (allergy) and ethical considerations. This position was supported by several delegations, which recalled that there was a strong demand for information on the mode of production from consumers in Europe.

(44) The Delegation of Norway supported mandatory labelling of all products containing or issued from GMOs, as ethical concerns of consumers related to the mode of production should be addressed, and comprehensive labelling [is] essential to ensure consumer confidence in food labelling in general. ... The Delegation of Denmark expressed concern about the fact that the mode of production should be taken into account and therefore all foods containing or derived from biotechnology should be labelled.

(47) The Committee had an exchange of views on the opportunity of applying the recommendations to novel foods which were not produced through biotechnology; some delegations stressed that changes in composition, nutritional value or other characteristics of all foods should be made known to the consumers irrespective of the mode of production, while other delegations and observers supported limiting the scope of the text to foods derived from GMOs. The Committee did not come to a conclusion on this matter.

(48) ... The Committee agreed with the proposal of the Delegation of Canada to consider further how the concept of equivalence could be clarified for the purpose of labelling, which could be achieved by a working group.

(49) The Committee agreed to return the Proposed Draft Recommendations to Step 3 for redrafting by a Working Group coordinated by the Delegation of Canada, which would prepare a revised version for circulation and consideration by the next session.

Since I was unable to attend the meeting, and in the absence of any report on the meeting by the Canadian delegation, I have to rely on the reports of others, the essence of which are: G&M 30/4/99 (CP) "Canada has agreed to lead an international effort to reach consensus on what labelling should be required for genetically modified foods. Canadian officials agreed to chair a working group on the issue after it became apparent there was no hope of consensus at the regular meeting of Codex Alimentarius. ... The main issue is whether mandatory labelling should be required for foods produced through biotechnology. Representatives of 164 countries have been struggling to bridge a wide gap between the United States and the European Union. Consumer representatives say Canada, along with Australia, New Zealand and other countries, has retreated from previous support of the U.S. position, leaving the United States isolated. The U.S. view is that a biotech food should not have to be labelled if it is substantially equivalent to an existing conventional food in nutritional value and intended use. Canada's position has been virtually identical. But Canadian delegates told the meeting this week more work is required to define what is mean by 'substantially equivalent.'"

ACRES USA (e-mail): Steven Sprinkel reported that, "Twenty-three countries and a number of International NGOs were named to a Working Group on Biotechnology by CCFL chair Anne MacKenzie. The US Delegate deferred the chairmanship to Canada in a gesture demonstrating the need to have the leadership of the Working Group represented by a more neutral Codex member. ... Chairperson MacKenzie [noted] that whereas 24% of members showed significant interest in comprehensive labelling in 1998, this year a clear majority of member countries now support labelling of one sort or another."

CBC Radio, 5/ 5/99: Sandra Bartlett reported that "Only the US and Argentina remain opposed to all labelling. Robert Lake, the US delegate, said labelling could be misleading: 'Voluntary labelling will take the form of assertions, either direct or implied, that the food produced through biotechnology is unsafe. And we think that would be a terrible disservice to consumers as well as create an unlevel playing field'."

Somewhere between the time its recommendations for the meeting were made and the conclusion of the meeting itself, Canada's position shifted dramatically. This apparently sudden shift raises a question crucial to the issue of public participation in the Codex processes and the confidence the Canadian public ought to place in the Canadian Codex Interdepartmental Committee.

If the shift in Canada's position was a matter of genuine enlightenment, a sincere recognition of the increasingly vocal public demand for the labelling of foods produced through biotechnology coupled with the growing public antipathy toward the industry game of shifting definitions to obfuscate the issue and to maintain their control, then Canada is to be congratulated.

If, however, this is a case of opportunism in order to provide an opening for the US to back down from its arrogant and unacceptable position against any form of labelling of foods produced through biotechnology, then censure of Canada's deceit is called for.

The question is, which was it?

The following response to my question arrived too late for inclusion in The Ram's Horn #170. Unfortunately it makes it quite clear that Canada's "change" was not a change at all, just an opportunistic ploy. Note the emphasis on "no longer equivalent." - BK

16 Jun 1999
From: Diane Fournier
Consumer Protection and Food Policy Coordination Division
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Mr. Kneen: ...

In response to your request for clarification on Canada's position on the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology, I would advise that Canada's position has not changed and continues to be that provision of essential label information respecting changes in food safety, composition and nutritional value must remain the first priority for consumers, whether or not foods are derived from biotechnology. Voluntary labelling is an option on condition that it is truthful and not misleading.

During discussions at the CCFL [Codex Committee on Food Labelling], Canada also indicated that the concept of "substantial equivalence" is more appropriate to food safety assessments rather than for labelling considerations. For this reason, Canada indicated support for the mandatory labelling of foods and food ingredients obtained by modern biotechnology which are "no longer equivalent " (as replacement for "no longer substantially equivalent") to the existing or conventionally produced foods in respect to composition, nutritional value or intended use.

Canada is committed to advancing progress on the labelling issue at the international level. In the meantime, the CFIA, in partnership with consumers, health professionals, and the food industry will continue to develop communications tools (for ex.toll-free line 1-877- FOOD-BIO) and explore ways to meet the information needs of consumers, including means other than product labelling.

I hope this clarifies our position.

Sincerely,
Diane Fournier

 

[Note: the phone number provided is that set up by the Food Biotechnology Communications Network, an industry organization jointly financed by the Canadian Government and the biotech industry. The information provided is not exactly unbiased. - BK]

 

 

 

Issue 171: Labelling of GE foods: consumer 'choice' or boycott?

(Also in this issue: "Harmonization, Orchestration, or just plain propaganda?" Canadian Food Iinspection Agency reply to our question of Canada's position on labelling in Codex Alimentarius (see RH#170); rbGH update... and more)

In the brave new world of genetic engineering, things are often not quite what they seem. Potatoes are toxin factories; pigs are human spare parts shops. Even strategies to ensure that our food supply is safe, wholesome, and organized for the benefit of the public, are often not as simple as they may at first appear. Take, for example, the non-moratorium recently achieved by the EU on genetically engineered food products. Or the issue of labelling: why are we calling for labelling of genetically-engineered foods, when what we clearly want is to get rid of them altogether?

Labelling is generally understood to be a matter of nutrition information and of consumer choice, or simply fair trading. Food standards and labelling were established to overcome the laissez faire policy of "buyer beware" of earlier years.

Consumer choice requires that foods be labelled so that people who have physical or religious sensitivities can avoid those products which would offend or harm them: thus we have kosher, vegetarian, and "may contain traces of peanuts" labels. The Canadian government, however, has taken on itself (under industry guidance) to claim that products derived through genetic engineering require no labelling because there are no nutritional differences between these products and their normal counterparts, although no testing is required to prove the claim

The biotech industry, on the other hand, may now be realizing that it has painted itself into a corner by extolling the benefits of biotechnology while trying to hide GE foods from the public. Labelling may be not only inevitable, but even desirable, if the industry can turn the growing public demand for labelling to its own purposes. If it could create a simplistic public demand for labelling, with no fundamental critique of genetic engineering and no mention of corporate control, then it could regain the high ground and proclaim that is simply responding to consumer demand.

In a recent speech to the Monsanto board of directors, none other than the president of the Rockefeller Foundation has called for labelling. This is significant, given that it was the Rockefeller Foundation which laid the ideological and financed the 'scientific' foundations for both the Green Revolution and the development of commercial biotechnology.

"Consumers have a right to choose whether to eat GM foods or not. There are certainly logistic problems in separating crops all the way from field to retail sale but this technology will not be accepted unless consumers feel they have a choice. If consumers wish to be informed whether they are eating GM foods, they have a right to know. Monsanto should come out immediately and strongly in favour of labelling." - Gordon Conway, president, Rockefeller Foundation, remarks prepared for the Monsanto board of directors, June 24, 1999

Conway's remarks may be falling on fertile soil. Following the publication of the Nature article about the Cornell University research on the potential harmful effects of Bt corn on Monarch butterfly larvae, Chemical & Engineering News (31/5/99 ) reported that

"Thomas E. Nickson, a Monsanto regulatory science expert, said he now considers the labelling of genetically modified crops for export inevitable. But, he says, the only way it can work is to have an accepted standard for a label of "GM free" that allows a certain level of contamination, such as 1% genetically modified components.

"Ernest S. Micek, chairman of corn processing giant Cargill, Minneapolis, echoes that view.'Segregation systems that separate various types of genetically modified crops are the wave of the future,' he says, because crops with special end-user traits such as the ability to fight cancer and heart disease will have to be marketed separately. [These are referred to as Identity-Preserved or IP crops - ed.] "Over the past month, nearly all U.S. corn refiners, including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, announced that they will not accept any variety of genetically modified corn that has not been approved in Europe. Actually, ADM decided to do so 13 months ago, but it has publicized the decision more in recent weeks, says ADM Senior Vice President Martin L. Andreas. 'This will guarantee we can process the corn into food ingredients for European markets,' he says. Last year, U.S. farmers lost about $200 million in sales of corn and corn products to Europe because the EU has not approved most varieties of genetically modified corn.

"The National Soybean Association has also gotten into the genetic modification fray. It has asked producers not to commercialize additional varieties of genetically modified soybean until they are approved in Europe. In the meantime, it wants companies to develop an effective identity preservation labelling program to keep unapproved varieties out of export channels."

"Consumer choice", then, includes the industrial 'consumers' as well as customers at the grocery store.

Consumer choice, Monsanto style: "Most corn pollen remains within the corn field and monarch larvae can choose to avoid feeding on Bt pollen by feeding on the underside of [milkweed] leaves or on other milkweed leaves with little or no Bt pollen."

Certainly there are those for whom labelling is simply a matter of individual consumer choice and food safety. They argue that a person should be able to choose, or not, foods produced through biotechnology, that is, g.e. foods, or GMOs. But this position is not necessarily opposed to biotechnology and g.e. foods per se. It may be based simply on a real concern about personal health consequences, such as allergenicity.

It may also be a concern with the potential environmental consequences of inadequately tested and badly regulated GMOs While these concerns are real and legitimate, they may lead not to a call for a ban of all g.e.,but simply for a better regulatory process and adequate labelling, or a moratorium until more is known about the potential consequences of genetic engineering.

Colleagues who have questioned the wisdom of a campaign demanding the labelling of genetically engineered foods, or foods produced from genetically engineered ingredients, suggest that the demand for labelling may also amount to little more than an acknowledgement that g.e. food is here to stay. Labelling would be simply a generous concession to the cult of consumer 'choice'.


A ban by any other name would smell as sweet

 

The call for labelling, however, can be much more than an individualistic demand for "consumer choice" and a proof of "safety". It may, in fact, be a strategic means to achieve a de facto boycott of 'foods produced through biotechnology'. It may be a means of voting against the corporate control of food. It may be a means to rejecting all genetic engineering on ethical or moral grounds. It all depends on context, as I have written in Farmageddon.

The situation we are faced with in the case of transgenic canola is a good illustration. Canola was developed from rapeseed some thirty years ago through traditional plant selection and breeding. It has been proclaimed and widely recognized as an unusually 'healthy' oil for human consumption, including being given GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe) in the U.S. Add to this its genetic malleability and the scale on which it has come to be grown in Canada and it is obvious why it became one of the first widely produced transgenic plants and foods. (see RH #169)

Then along came Calgene (later bought out by Monsanto) and others who saw canola as an ideal subject for genetic engineering to make the plant herbicide tolerant. Obviously this meant greater sales for the herbicides, such as Liberty and Roundup, produced by the chemical companies turned seed companies.

Now, with more than 50% of the canola grown in Canada genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance, there are a growing number of people who realize something is being put over on them without their knowledge, and that this something may not be good for them. In other words, just as nutritional concerns are moving beyond the four food groups, the public is beginning to realize that they have been excluded, due to lack of labelling, from being able to exercise their values through the food they eat.

Canola has, of course, some rather special properties. It is a 'proudly Canadian' product. It is touted as a particularly healthy oil. It is a single product for which there are alternatives in the marketplace. And, unlike the Bt potato which may well be hazardous to humans with compromised digestive systems, concerns about canola oil are clearly about genetic engineering itself. As the Canola Council of Canada, in the person of Dale Adolph, likes to tell those who take the time to write and object to the unidentified use of transgenic canola seed to produce canola oil, the herbicide tolerance characteristic is a protein that is found only in the meal, not in the oil, after processing. Therefore, says Adolph somewhat disingenuously, the canola oil is not transgenic.

The public has the choice of consuming oil from transgenic canola, or not buying or using canola oil at all unless it is certified organic or comes through a processor able to guarantee the oil to be GE-free. In other words, a de facto boycott of oil from genetically engineered seed. On top of all this, there is the very significant issue of potential environmental damage. Which makes it all very similar to the new de facto moratorium on GE crops and foods in Europe.

In this context, labelling IS a matter of consumer choice, but it is a choice to drive GE foods out of the market and reduce the level of corporate control, not just to get the products of transnational corporations labelled for purposes of individual consumption.

Why not simply call for a ban on genetic engineering, then, if what we are after is to get genetic engineering out of food (including cotton as cottonseed oil) altogether?

Morally, this has its appeal. It sounds simple and straightforward. But if one calls for a ban, who is there to listen? Who, or what agency, is going to institute or legislate a ban? Certainly not Chretien or Clinton, certainly not the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.

Apart from the political folly of calling for a ban, a call for a ban would raise a great many more issues about the use of biotechnology in drugs, medical treatment and reproductive technology - issues that may be just as important, and socially perhaps even more important, than issues raised by the genetic engineering of food crops. Strategically, it may just be wise to tackle the issues one by one. If the market for GE canola disappears, so will GE canola. This will give us an opportunity to address the other important issues: the bad science which uses the population as guinea pigs for GE products that have been subjected to no long-term testing; the dangers of environmental contamination and genetic deterioration of crop varieties; the corporate control of the whole food system; the real dangers and even the conceivable benefits of biotechnologies under public control and rigorous, transparent regulation.

So it all comes back to a matter of context. How is the call for labelling framed: as a matter of (bourgeois) consumer choice or as a tool to drive GE foods out of the market and off the farm?

The call for labelling is a 'reasonable' demand and as such it is a powerful tool for public education about the dangers of the uncontrolled experiment the biotech industry is conducting on the general public. We know that, to the industry's chagrin, the more the public knows about biotech the less they like it. Once biotech foods are labelled, the markets will disappear and public understanding of, and opposition to, corporate control of the food system will grow.

Addendum: An indication of industry strategy is that where labelling is being called for (EU, Japan, Australia/New Zealand), generous tolerance levels (up to 5% of the final product from GE sources) are proposed, in order to allow for genetic pollution of the crop or product. This is simply not acceptable. Total segregation of GE crops & foods is possible and necessary, just as it is possible and necessary for organic and other identity preserved crops. If the industry says it cannot be done, they are simply lying, because they are already doing it when it suits their business purposes. In any case, there is always the option of not producing GE seeds, crops and food in the first place.

 

 

Issue 176: TNCs Sail On Ð WTO or Not

by Brewster Kneen, with thanks to Ralph Nobles in San Francisco and Jorge Hinestroza in Venezuela


salt

Picture this. A village of 1700 souls on the edge of a nationally and internationally recognized valuable wetlands in the west of Venezuela taking on Cargill, reputedly the world largest private company. The issue: Cargill's attempt to turn the wetlands into huge salt evaporation ponds to produce solar salt for the Venezuelan petrochemical and plastics industries. Cargill is already among the top three salt companies in the world. The region in Venezuela where Cargill is active is to the west of Caracas and the long thin coastal region where the severe flooding and mudslides took place.

It is a repeat of Cargill's performance in India in 1992/3. In India, Cargill lost to the small-scale salt producers, the peasant farmers and others. We trust it will lose in Venezuela as well.

In 1995 Cargill de Venezuela formed a joint venture with Petroquimica de Venezuela SA to produce salt by acquiring a 70% interest in Productora del Sal (Produsal), a Venezuelan company in which Petroquimica already has a substantial interest. Plans called for Produsal to complete construction of a salt-production facility at Los Olivitos in the state of Zulia expected to produce 800,000 tons of salt annually. Petroquimica is a wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela. source: WSJ:26/9/95

Since 1995 the villagers of Anc¢n de Iturre have been resisting Cargill's efforts to develop salt production in the area.

The Los Olivitos Marsh is a coastal wetland of 33,000 hectares of mangroveswamps, littoral lagoon (estuary), salt marshes, sandy beaches, and dunes lyingwithin the Maracaibo estuary, located between the Gulf of Venezuela (SouthernCaribbean Sea) and Lake Maracaibo. 15,000 hectares of the Olivitos estuary hasalready been declared a Wildlife Refuge and Fishing Reserve under Venezuelan lawand in 1996 this wetland was included in the list of Ramsar sites, that is, a wetland of international importance according to the Ramsar Agreement.

The Los Olivitos marsh receives the waters of El Tablazo Bay on the west and the waters of the Caribbean (Gulf of Venezuela) to the north. It is also fed by the freshwater of the Cocuiza and Palmar Rivers. It is an important resting, feeding and nesting place for many species of birds, as well as being an important trophic area and nursery zone for several commercial fish species, crustaceans, and other aquatic organisms. The mangrove areas of Los Olivitos and San Carlos supply 50% of the catch of Zulia state, most of it coming from the artisan fishery, and Zulia state actually exports white shrimps and blue crabs to the United States.

Through Produsal, Cargill intends to supply all the salt required by the El Tablazo Petrochemical Complex, where Petroquimica de Venezuela (Pequiven) uses salt as a primary material for chlorine production and the manufacture of PVC. Large amounts of salt are also used in the nearby oil field operations in Lake Maracaibo and vicinity.

About three years ago Produsal expropriated about one-third of Los Olivitos wetlands, built a 17- kilometer dike and converted the marshlands to salt ponds to produce about 300,000 tones of salt per year. Now it seeks to increase production to 800,000 to one million tonnes or more. Obviously this would eliminate the traditional small-scale salt works and threaten, if not destroy, the mangrove swamps and the fishery in the Los Olivitos lagoon ecosystem, upon which the people of Anc¢n de Iturre and the neighbouring villages of Bella Vista, Los Jobitos, Sabaneta de Palmas, and Punta de Palmas depend for food and some cash income.


Cargill's 1993 attempted project in India is described in detail in Invisible Giant:
"Encouraged by India's new economic liberalisation, Cargill Southeast Asia obtained approval from the government's Foreign Investment Promotion Board to set up a 100 per cent export-oriented unit to produce one million tonnes of high-quality sun-dried or solar industrial salt a year" [in Kandla Port, Gujarat State], reported the Financial Times of London in mid-1993. Even though it was already producing 5 million tonnes of salt a year at its plants in Western Australia and California, Cargill was seeking new production sites because these sources were not expected to meet future demand."
"Local opposition to the Cargill project took the form of a protest march beginning in surrounding villages and timed to arrive at Kandla Port on May 17th, 1993, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's salt march to the sea in the same state more than 50 years ago."
"In September, 1993, Cargill made a tactical retreat from salt in India. Its press release read: "Cargill today advised the Horourable Court at Kandla in Gujarat that it is no longer interested in building an export-oriented salt works in the Kandla Port Trust area." A Cargill spokesman said that political opposition had played no role in Cargill's withdrawal from the salt project. "It would be a mistake to conclude that we have been deterred by the erroneous and politically motivated claims made by some people regarding this project," he added." Invisible Giant , Cargill and Its Transnational Strategies, Brewster Kneen, Pluto Press, 1995, is available from The Ram's Horn for $16 postpaid in Canada, US$16 postpaid elsewhere

El Tablazo Bay lies northeast of Maracaibo City and is now considered part of Lake Maracaibo. Originally, Lake Maracaibo was almost entirely closed to the sea by a bar which provided an effective obstacle to big oil tankers entering the lake, but this obstacle was overcome by dredging out the bar. The continuous dredging is one of the most important pollution sources in this area due both to the movement of sediment and the increasing salinity of the lake itself. In the past it was not salty because the rivers brought enough fresh water into the lake to keep the sea water out.

The inhabitants of Anc¢n de Iturre have long lived in harmony with the marshes, taking fish from Los Olivitos without damaging the natural resource. The dike that Cargill built three years ago, diverting the rivers that formerly brought fresh water and nutrients to the marshes, has had disastrous consequences for the fish and other organisms living in the marshes. Fishers who used to catch around 1,000 kg per boat three years ago now get just half of that or less.

However, an even greater and more imminent danger than an extension of the dikes is the plan of Produsal to install a pipeline to discharge bittern (amaragos in spanish), a highly-alkaline toxic by- product of salt production, directly into Lake Maracaibo.

Each ton of salt produced generates a metric ton of toxic bittern. Cargill knows very well what the harmful effects of this will be. Twenty-eight years ago Leslie Salt Company, now part of Cargill Salt, commissioned a scientific report titled "Report on Proposed Discharge of Bittern to San Francisco Bay". (March 31, 1972) The report describes the toxicity of bittern and points out that salt production by solar evaporation produces one ton of bittern for each ton of salt produced. The same report indicates that bittern must be diluted at least 100-to-1 with fresh water before losing lethality. Current environment regulations in San Francisco Bay require that Cargill Salt dilute its bittern discharge at least 300-to-1 and then release it only during an extra-strong ebb tide and at locations where there will be strong mixing and tidal dispersion. These conditions are so stringent that bittern is currently not discharged but is stored in diked bittern ponds.

Being well aware of the vital role of the marshes, a year ago the men, women and children of all the fishing families of Los Olivitos stopped the installation the bittern pipeline by placing themselves in the way of the construction machinery. Fortunately no one was injured. But they achieved even more than halting construction of the pipeline, because a municipal representative notified the National Guard about the protest and Guard officials came to monitor the demonstration. While at the site, they had the opportunity to conduct a close inspection of the pipeline and found that the size of the pipe exceeded the permitted diameter and capacity as authorized by the environmental authorities. Not only had Produsal (Cargill-Pequiven) obtained illegal permission to install the pipeline but they were installing a larger pipe (13") than that specified by the illicit license (10"). It became obvious that corrupt Ministry of Environment officials had authorized the work illegitimately and that Produsol was doing whatever it pleased anyway.

At that point Produsal retreated and the Environmental Ministry cancelled the permit and assured the villagers that a public hearing would be held before a new permit was issued. No hearing was called and in mid-April a hundred fishermen and their families from Anc¢n de Iturre gathered in Maracaibo to request that Produsal's General Manager and a regional officer meet with the community representatives. The community chairwoman, Lic.Yuleida Huerta, who herself comes from a fisher family and is a teacher in a rural school located near to Anc¢n de Iturre, and the fishermen submitted the following demands:

1) The creation of a committee composed of representatives of Produsal, Ministry of the Environment and the community, to investigate the consequences of Cargill's production methods.
2) The total elimination of the discharge of bittern, a toxic by-product of solar salt production (bittern discharge is not allowed into San Francisco Bay from Cargill's salt operations there).
3) Development of a bittern waste treatment system to protect El Tablazo and Carribbean waters. Cargill must apply the same strict care for protecting La Cienage de Los Olivitos Wildlife Refuge as it is required to use to protect the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge.
4) Dismantling of Produsal's pumping system which takes water directly from the lagoon within the Refuge.
5) Removal of the obstacles that stop the water flow from Cocuiza and El Palmar rivers into the Refuge.
6) The development and adoption of an ecosystem plan and programs to protect the Cocuize and El Palmar river basins. (Very important for the health of the Refuge.)

In April, Yuleida Huerta also wrote a letter to the people in the San Francisco Bay area who share concerns about Cargill's salt operations. "Today, through these lines, I am able to express the bitter sadness of just thinking about what uncertain future is expected for the children and grandchildren of these wonderful and humble fishermen of this community, who live the horror of seeing how infernal machines extract the rich water containing hundreds of species, in the form of tiny eggs, larvas, and young fishes, from our lagoon in order to convert it into huge piles of salt. This represents the death of our lagoon and hunger and poverty for us."

Although the promised hearing never did take place, all remained quiet until just before Christmas when Produsal crews reappeared (on December 22nd) with a new pipeline permit and again laid out tubing on the public lands of the Refuge. Feeling betrayed by the Environmental Ministry that had issued a new permit without a public hearing, the angry villagers of Anc¢n de Iturre, now joined by residents of the neighboring villages of Belle Vista, Jobitos and Punta de Palmas, formed a 1000-strong protest and demanded both a meeting with Produsal representatives and that the pipes be taken back to salt company property.

The Produsal engineer that came to talk to the people disregarded their demand and even teased the crowd. When Yuleida gave Produsal a deadline for removing the pipeline, the response of the engineer was to make fun of her. When the time limit was up, the people began to burn the pipeline, reducing almost half a kilometre of the hated pipe to puddles of molten PVC.

Meanwhile, at some distance out of reach of the stones that "rained" abundantly an amazed group of elegant managers of the company watched.

When a Produsal truck with a policeman and armed Produsal security guards appeared and shots were fired toward the crowd, the historically peaceful fishermen became enraged and proceeded to upset and burn the truck as well.

Some members of the National Guard that arrived a little later asked with amazement how it was possible that Produsal had tried to discharge bittern in a recognized Refuge and they even shared some of the food that the fishermen prepared for the protesters.

When the National Guard authorities invited the community leaders to tell them what happened, Yuleida said that they were going to declare their responsibility for the events described above because the people of Anc¢n de Iturre are tired of the deceit and traps of Produsal and the government.

Produsal has now charged Yuleida with riot and the National Guard has been ordered by the public prosecutor to investigate the case. Our lawyers, wrote Jorge Hinestroza on January 2nd, are already on the case and think that Produsal has made a lot of legal mistakes and that the company lawyer mishandled the situation. "So we feel very safe. Anyway, as we say, 'we will turn the cake over,' and Produsal will regret it. This case will probably also provoke a real scandal against Cargill itself. Meanwhile, it has already aroused a lot of support from the other communities that know Yuleida as an upright leader. I would have liked to have been there when Yuleida and the other five accused fishermen went to the National Guard office to attend the citation. A crowd of neighbours from Anc¢n and others communities went with them, and the officials were amazed by the unprepared demonstration. Produsal must be wondering if it should continue this senseless persecution. Cargill is increasing the defiance of the rest of the fishermen in different communities."

We'll let you know how it turns out.

Issue 177: A Meal of Potatoes

Public sector plant breeding produces one tough potato Robert Plaisted, Cornell University professor emeritus of plant breeding, and his colleagues, Bill Brodieand William Fry, professors in Cornell's plant pathology department, have just introduced a new potato New York 121. This small white potato is able to fend off late blight (the fungus P. Infestans, of "Irishpotato-famine" fame) as well as both races of golden nematodes, scab and potato virus Y (PVY).

The development of New York 121 dates back more than 30 years when Plaisted acquired seedsof potato varieties grown in the Andes mountains of South America. Repeated selection for adaptationto the New York region and for disease resistance produced the selection E74-7, the mother of NY 121.This selection was important because of its extreme resistance to potato mosaic viruses.

In 1984 Plaisted obtained seeds from the International Potato Centre in Peru that had resistanceto multiple races of the golden nematode, a soil-borne pest. One generation of breeding producedN43-288, the male parent of New York 121. This parent is mostly of Peruvian ancestry, but includesa wild species from Argentina. By dusting the female's (E74-7) pistil with the male's (N43-288) pollennine years ago, Plaisted bred a potato with multiple resistance.

New York 121 is a mid-season potato that will be good for boiling, perhaps even baking, but it isnot a good potato for making French fries or chips. Brodie explains that there are yield trade-offs inexchange for disease resistance, but overall he is happy about the potato.

In addition to the New York 121, Cornell also is introducing two other potato varieties, Keuka Goldand Eva. Keuka Gold is a yellow-flesh potato, good for boiling, which will be known for its flavour andhigh yields. It is also resistant to scab and golden nematodes. Eva has a bright white skin, also good for boiling, and it is resistant to the mosaic virus, goldenNematode, and scab. It has an unusually long tuber dormancy, which means the potato can be storedlonger.

The seed for New York 121 could be available as early as next season from the New YorkFoundation Seed Farm at Lake Placid, N.Y. Cornell University News Service, 9/2/00 As I reported in Farmageddon, Plasisted has also been responsible for a naturally bred potato quitecapable of warding off pests such as the Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB) and the leaf hopper.

"in 1992, researchers at Cornell University were playing with a hybrid potato bred from a wild type, solanumBerthaulthi, that has thin hairs on its foliage ... which secrete a sticky substance that traps and kills small insectsas they feed or reproduce. ... The CPB, for example, gets a serious case of constipation from the sticky secretionwhich causes its stomach to bloat, crushing its ovaries and curtailing its reproduction. Robert Plaisted, the Cornellprofessor doing the research, said the potato tastes like any other but comes equipped with the best method yetof providing a broad spectrum of resistance to insects. Plaisted says this "new" potato has found favour mainlywith organic growers. He hopes to have other varieties with similar characteristics available in the newmillennium.

"When I asked him about transgenic Bt potatoes, Plaisted told me that one of the problems with them is thatthey offer no deterrent to the leaf hopper, which is actually a bigger problem than the potato beetle because thehopper is very small and the damage is done before the farmer realizes there is a problem. When I asked whetherthe fascination with genetic engineering was affecting his research, he replied that fortunately he received specialgrants from the USDA and from an international foundation. Without those his work would not be possible.

Farmageddon, pp.103-4

2014

Issue 301

Lead Article: 
The Cancer of Growth

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excessive burden of growthThe Cancer of Growth: There is an unshakeable ideological commitment to growth at all costs. We have to grow the economy, even if it kills us.
Emerging Markets: The language reflects the ideology of Progress: there is only one direction to go.
Agri-Business Polikcy: Bill C-18 will destroy Canada's independent seed breeding research and indeed our ability to grow crops suited to our particular conditions. The National Farmers Union has an excellent backgrounder on why thys is critical for all Canadians
Canola Council of Canada - One Big Happy Growing Family: Decreasing rotations of canola with other crops will backfire
Beware the drug salesman: The new president of CropLife Canada sees Roundup as "sustainable"
Investment in Agriculture: Exhibit A: "Input Capital"; Exhibit B: Cathleen is sceptical of the Responsible Agriculture Investment Principles
Local Technology: icipe "push-pull" methodology has huge benefits for Kenyan farmer
Monsanto - Just A Helping Hand: Monsanto thinks using more powerful herbicides to kill volunteer Roundup Ready corn in Brazil is just fine
Letter from a Friend: A holiday in Spain leads to a shocking discovery of the extent of greenhouses along the Mediterranean coast.

Issue 302

Lead Article: 
Evolution

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from sheep to globeEvolution: The story of The Ram's Horn and how it is aging gracefully
Who Makes Policy?: Just how Cargill makes Canada's agricultural policy
"Saving lives", Making Profits: The legacy of Norman Borlaug in the destruction of agro-ecology and sustainable food systems
Courts Act in the Public Interest: Acting in defense of the common good, Brazil federal court reverses approval for CM corn
How to Escape Liability: The US Secretary of Agriculture sets the assumption that GE contamination is an inevtiable and acceptable cost of doing business
Cargill Refuses Syngenta's GE Corn: China is rejecting this product, and it makes business sense for Cargill to refuse to handle it
"Science-based" Decisions: In Whose Interest?: Excerpts from two articles which reinforce a healthy scepticism
"Clogged": Canada's government orders the railways to solve the problem of grain shipping that they created themselves when they destroyed the Canadian Wheat Board
Public Plant Breeding Attacked: An article from the National Farmers Union analysing the shuttering of the Cereal Research Centre, one of the last of Canada's public agriculture institutions
Crop Rotation is Best Protection: Even Dow Agrosciences admits that the old-fashioned way is still the primary tool to combat pests
Globalization and Food Sovereignty: Review of a book that asks interesting questions about the development of the food movement in Canada
Stifling Peasant Agriculture: A three-country effort to impose the Brazilian industrial production-export model on Mozambique, to the dismay of the small farmers
A New Lamb Co-Op: A Manitoba sheep farmer is working with a New Zealand company to build a vertically integrated lamb business on the Prairies

Issue 303

Please Note:  We make each issue of The Ram's Horn available for free download as it appears in print. Whether or not you want a paper copy mailed to you, we invite you to make a contribution to our research and production costs - the regular subscription is $25 CDN per year (10 issues) plus extra postage to addresses outside Canada, and you can add $25 or more to support us as a Patron.

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Table of Contents

Danny Dennis salmon paintingIn the Absence of the Sacred: The ancient salmon migration cycle is being broken
Food Cartels & Food Policy: Consolidation reaches a new level and leads to even greater corporate influence on food and agricultural policy
New "Flexible" EU Policy on GM Crops: The EU decision to allow countries to make their own decisions to approve or reject GM crops courts widespread contamination, delighting the GM industry
Labels and "Free Speech": Grain organizations band together to promote GE wheat; the big food corporations sue Vermont for its GM ban
Assembling Farmland: For the Common Good ...: Farmland Legacies increases and refines its stewardship program for the lands it holds in trust
... For Corporate Control: Another beachhead: Cargill invests in Ukraine agribusiness
Not So Simple - How the Mighty [Investors] Have FallenOne Earth Farms and Sprott Resource Corporation quit the Blood Reserve lands, cut back operations drastically
A Growing Problem: Palmer pigweed is the latest agrotoxin-resistant weed to cause a major nuisance, infesting 25 million ha of cropland in the USA
Transform our food system: The wheat-to-bread value chain in South Africa

Painting by BC artist Danny Dennis

issue 304

Lead Article: 
Wonderful New Technology

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Table of Contents

Wonderful New Technology: Straight-faced presentation of a press release on Round Up Ready Dandelion
In Their Own Words: "Modernization of Canada's Crop Variety registration system"; New Cornell Alliance for Science gets $5.6 million grant
"What Is Agri-Food?: Well might you ask, the Canadian public does not seem to know
Consolidation in All Directions: In the middle, between the horizontal and vertical consolidation is Input Capital; Cargill is expert at consolidation up, down, and sideways
From R&D to M&A: Research and development of new products gives way to mergers and acquisitions as a way for corporations to grow; Burger King's takeover of ubiquitous Canadian coffee-shop chain Tim Hortons is a case in point
Limits to Growth: Crannog Ales demonstrates a successful business with a cap on growth
A Quiet Land-grab: Continues the story of foreign 'investment' in millions of hectares in war-torn Ukraine (see also RH #303)
Solving Hunger: Turkey's Neo-Liberal Miracle: Ryerson University's Mustafa Koc dissects the reality underneath Turkey's success story of food security
BBQ Advice: Good news, cold potatoes (as in potato salad) can help counteract the connection between red meat and colorectal cancerPlease Privatising Knowledge: Monsanto gets into data management - for the greater efficiency of the farmers, of course
Breaking News: US is an Oligarchy: New research shows that the US is dominated by its rich elite, who would have guessed?
Fertilizer Protection: One scientist suggests that fertilizers need to be 'protected' from climate events like heavy rains

Wonderful New Technology

Readers of The Ram’s Horn will know that it is our practice to publish only reports from identifiable and trustworthy sources. The following press release is something of an exception. It was passed to us by a source we cannot identify for their safety and job security, but we think you will agree that it is typical of industry hype and promises and appears to be authentic.

Announcing the release of Roundup Ready Dandelion

St. Louis, Mo, 31/7/18 – The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) may be a weed to some (the common name in French is piss-en-lit), but it promises to become a powerhouse for innovators in the food sector. The young leaves are in much demand as a salad green among high-end chefs; the golden flowers are prized to make a delicate wine; and the roots are widely used in food and beverage processing for their exotic almost-coffee flavour, as in delicious organic dandelion ice cream.

piss-en-litTo serve the producers and users of this crop, we are excited to announce the widespread release of RoundUp-Ready (RR) dandelions. No longer will growers be faced with dead dandelions every time a neighbour sprays a crop or enhances a lawn. As is standard in our industry we consulted widely (with 3 Italian wine makers and one ice cream producer) in the process of perfecting this technology. In addition, our stakeholder consultations have not produced a single voice of concern. Our extensive research has uncovered no scientific papers contradicting our own research findings; in fact, our rigorous trials demonstrate that the seed will not travel beyond the farm. Our trial results show that 83.45% of the RR dandelion seed comes with shorter wing feathers than conventional varieties; trials of blow balls in windy outdoor conditions are forthcoming.

Furthermore, insects which could be vectors of cross-pollination with conventional dandelions can be readily controlled through regular applications of neonicotinoids. This is what we call a sustainable, integrated solution.

Farmers and gardeners alike will enjoy the control and predictability this new technology offers for their management practices. Further developments of this technology promise higher yields for farmers and increased root size, of particular interest to commercial growers, and opening new opportunities even beyond the food sector. Our scientists are improving a variety that yields a milk similar to that of the rubber tree. This newly improved and enhanced variety promises to liberate the world from dependence on east Asian latex fields and provide a reliable source of non-rainforest latex for world markets. It also promises to cure cancer.

Illustration: Piss-en-lit in action

Our commitment to growth of the industry is demonstrated by these innovative solutions which promise farmers a whole new suite of advanced technological tools to meet new and expanded market demands.

Visit your local dealer for samples of our seed. Save on planting expenses by opening the package aggressively on a windy part of your field. For farmers not interested in this product, we advise you to arrange a visit from our teams of lawyers who are already getting calls about illegal growing of our proprietary patented seed without a contract.

 

2015

Blog #1

 

As I mentioned at the meeting, I have a number of concerns which relate to the possibility of a genuine Organic aquaculture standard (whether or not it is integrated with the Canada Organic Standard).  I noted that your proposals are very much focused on maintaining the health and integrity of the organic products and processes, and it seems that much less, if any, attention has been paid so far to the broader Organic Principles which begin the document:

 Principle of Health – Organic production should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

 Principle of Ecology – Organic production should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

 Principle of Fairness – Organic production should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

 Principle of Care – Organic production should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

All of these indicate that organic production must be integrated with the environment in which it is practised, and be practised in such a way as to “sustain and enhance” that environment. Bluntly, if you indeed want to follow these principles, I can see no way to practise ocean-located net pens. They are an environment which cannot be isolated from its surroundings and the fish and other aquatic life there. There are inevitably escapes and inter-breeding with wild stocks, not to mention the outbreak of disease which can spread readily to wild populations. Even for a well-managed ‘organic’ enterprise with lower stocking densities, these are real issues. Together, the cumulative risks of disease from proximity to caged salmon, and the fact that the salmon’s amazing genetic imprint does not contain coding for this kind of lifestyle which makes them more susceptible to disease, puts into serious question the whole system of ocean-located net pens.

There is an ethical as well as a practical problem here. The Organic Standard reflects a vision which is couched in language of respecting integrity and natural systems. I think that many practitioners of organic farming might use the term ‘reverence’ in this context. The life- cycle of the Pacific Salmon is one of these systems which many revere, and the Adams River, which hosts the largest and best known migration, has been nominated as a World Heritage Site. The Sockeye salmon migrate for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from their natal stream high in the interior, through river systems to far out in the open ocean, and then back again four years later, with striking changes in their bodies as they battle their way upstream until they spawn and die. The fish are in a web of interdependence with the wildlife (bears, eagles) that feed on their dead bodies, the high mountains whose snow-melt provides the cold water in the rivers that they need, and the majestic trees that both cool the water and are nourished by the remains of their carcases and the droppings of their scavengers. It is not surprising that the Secwepemc (Shuswap) and other peoples in the region describe the salmon as sacred, reflecting the interweaving of relationships that is basic to Indigenous thinking.

How can the principles of ecology and fairness be applied to the confinement rearing of a migratory species?

In fact, the question must be raised about the suitability of what are in effect “factory farms” for an organic designation, even if they are located on land, and especially if they are not part of an integrated system where the leavings of one species provides the feed for another in an elegant closed loop. (Please note, I am simply suggesting that the question needs to be discussed.)

One of the most important concerns of the Technical Committee was, of course, just this question of feed and its provenance. This includes concern about the balance of pelagic fish and other protein sources in the feed for farmed fish; some scepticism of the label “sustainable fishery” for the pelagic fisheries on the basis of a state sign-on, without third-party verification; and the fact that it takes 1½  pounds of [wild] fish to grow one pound of salmon. Again, these are concerns which require more discussion of the evidence available to show that the proposed aquaculture is indeed sustainable and adheres to the Organic Principles in that regard.

In the interests of full disclosure, I need to note that this is an issue about which I have been passionate for a long time. I am a Newfoundlander, and you can still reduce me to tears just by mentioning the demise of the Northern Cod. I also lived for nearly ten years in Secwepemc territory, close to the Adams River and Lake Shuswap, and the experience of paddling my canoe in the midst of swarming, bright-red fish powerfully reminded me of the early explorers to the Grand Banks, who reported that the cod were so plentiful you could catch them in a basket. These are not, to my mind, minor matters, and they need careful and respectful consideration if we are to contemplate a certified Organic Standard for Aquaculture in Canada.

Thank you for listening.

Cathleen Kneen

June 10, 2015