Tables of Contents

January 2004 to December 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Issue 218: February 2004


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lilian Joensen, Grupo de Reflexión Rural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Issue 220: April/May 2004

 Privatisation and the Public Domain 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Brewster: brewster@ramshorn.ca

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


Avian Flu by Cathleen Kneen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Issue 221: June 2004

 Court Confusion

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

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

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

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

This argument is more detailed in paragraph #42:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Issue 222: July 2004

 A personal note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Issue 223: August 2004

 Safe Food?


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

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

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

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

But what is safe food?

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

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


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


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

People get worried about safety when trust begins to erode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada’s “not a food policy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Issue 224: September 2004

 Open-Pollinated Corn

by Susan Hundertmark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Issue 225: November 2004

 Planting trees for peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No Ground Vegetation": Photographs of GM trees in China (May 2003) by Dietrich Ewald, a German forestry scientist, are available at

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Issue 226: December 2004

 Upstream Ethics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Science, with a capital ‘S', is about silencing the critics and the public, as Bruno Latour points out:

“This Science, capital S, is not a description of what scientists do... It is an ideology that never had any other use ... than to offer a substitute for public discussion... It has always been a political weapon to do away with the strenuous constraints of politics... Because it was intended as a weapon, this conception of Science ... has only one use: as the command, “Keep your mouth shut!” 
– Bruno Latour, Pandora's Hope, Harvard, 1999, 258

Ethical problem #5: The hubris of genetic engineering and the question of what we can know.

At this point it is necessary to compare the biotech industry to the drug industry. Consider the tragic story of Vioxx (see next page) as an illustration of what many of us see having its analogues in the transgenic crops and the processes and procedures of the biotech industry, from the lab to the regulators to the hapless victims.

“Had the company not valued sales over safety, a suitable trial [of Vioxx] could have been initiated rapidly at a a fraction of the cost of Merck's direct-to-consumer advertising campaign. ” – Topol, NEJM, 21/10/04

It is in this light that we should see the human and environmental concerns about the ‘safety' of biotech. (Who predicted that RR bentgrass pollen would travel 13 miles!)

So now we may consider the “way upstream” question: what is the problem for which biotech is supposed to be the solution? Biotech offers the productionist ‘promise' of more food because it wants to retain control. But in a world with enough food, increasing food production and corporate control is definitely not the solution. The problem of hunger is ethical and social. It is not technological but political. It is about learning to share, not to own, the abundance of Creation. A good place to start at Christmastime and the celebration of Gift: of life, of health, of good food.

#226: December 2004 TOC
Upstream Ethics: Brewster outlines our basic position on biotechnology
"No Right for Contamination" - a Finnish-led campaign against GM trees
With or Without Vioxx, Drug Ads Proliferate
Stop, Thief! - how can we allow patents on seeds -- or music -- or poetry -- which derives from common knowledge?
Note from a Saskatchewan farmer-subscriber
Direct Action, India Style - Indian farmers take a Monsanto manager hostage
Wasted Food - 40% - 50% of all food ready for harvest in the USA never gets eaten
Eating Technology:
                 (1) Florida biotech company proposes GM mouthwash
                 (2) US researchers try GM to halt mould on strawberries
                 (3) PEI salmon genetic engineers think it's just like tinkering with your car
Grocery Giant has Giant Profit: Wal-Mart sales on its second quarter were $69.7 billion
The Hokkaido Story Continues: Japanese authorities and farmers wrestle with GE crops
German GM Rules: new and prohibitively strict rules now govern GM in Germany