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


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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email: ramshorn@ramshorn.bc.ca


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.



Home | Who We Are | Current Issue | Back Issues | Books


Issue 179


A monthly journal of food system analysis - BACK ISSUE -

Home
Who We Are
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
  • USA: $20US
  • Outside North America: US$26 (airmail delivery)

All cheques payable to
The Ram's Horn.



Contact us
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and information!


The Ram's Horn
S6, C27, RR#1
Sorrento BC
V0E 2W0
phone/fax: 250-675-4866
email: ramshorn@ramshorn.bc.ca


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 -

Home
Who We Are
Current Issue
Back Issues
Books



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
  • USA: $20US
  • Outside North America: US$26 (airmail delivery)

All cheques payable to
The Ram's Horn.



Contact us
for subscriptions
and information!


The Ram's Horn
S6, C27, RR#1
Sorrento BC
V0E 2W0
phone/fax: 250-675-4866
email: ramshorn@ramshorn.bc.ca


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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Issue 183


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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
Who We Are
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
  • USA: $20US
  • Outside North America: US$26 (airmail delivery)

All cheques payable to
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Contact us
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The Ram's Horn
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Sorrento BC
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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