Thursday, July 22, 2010


Why Is the Obama Administration Parroting Monsanto Talking Points?
Something's very wrong when the chief scientist at the USDA says we'll have to start farming parks, forests and golf courses if we don't switch to biotech.
July 19, 2010

When key government officials start touting the need for biotechnology there's reason to be concerned. Roger Beachy, the Chief Scientist of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently told that biotechnology is needed to maximize food production and reduce the use of agrochemicals. "With a greater number of people," he said, "we're going to have to have more crop per acre. If we don't, we'll have to expand [agriculture] to our parks, forests, and golf courses." And at first it might seem strange to hear a top government official parroting talking points from Monsanto's Corporate Responsibility page ... until you read his resume, that is. His last job before joining the USDA was as founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a non-profit research institute co-founded by Monsanto and the Danforth Foundation.

Now, another explanation why Monsanto and Roger Beachy have similar talking points could be that both are correct and they are simply explaining the facts about the future of food and agriculture. Do we really need biotech to feed a growing population?

Nope, turns out that we don't. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically engineered (GE) seeds, to date, don't translate to more crop yields. And worse, GE seeds have meant the uses of more, not less, chemicals. Jack Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, agrees. He points out that no GE crops, to date, were designed with the goal of increasing yield, and while "yield benefits have been observed" they've occurred "sporadically and in a year-, location-, and crop-dependent manner." He does not find evidence for decreased pesticide use in GE crops either.

About the prospect of future, drought-resistant varieties of crops, Heinemann dismisses them as a pipe dream because "the physiology of stress tolerance involves the interactions of many different genes working in a complex, environmentally-responsive network... genetic engineering is unlikely to produce reliable drought tolerance in most crops grown in actual field conditions because it is unable to mix and match so many genes at once." (A Mexican peasant might also add that non-GE varieties of drought-tolerant corn already exist in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, where indigenous peoples have developed them via seed saving over centuries.)

But facts and science be as they may, Monsanto and Roger Beachy are not the one ones making these very same claims. The CEO of the biotech company Syngenta, Michael Mack, takes the argument one step further, slamming organics as well. In 2009, he said, "Organic food is not only not better for the planet. It is categorically worse." His explanation? Organic farming takes up "about 30 percent more land" than non-organic farming for the same yield. (Syngenta's slogan, by the way, is "Grow more from less.")

A fact check of Mr. Mack's math finds that multiple studies estimate an increase in productivity of about 80 percent from switching to organic methods in the developing world. (In the U.S., we would see a slight decrease in productivity, but only by about eight percent - hardly a problem for a country that boasts nearly twice as many calories as required for each man, woman, and child.) Just last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter called for a switch to agroecology (that is, organic farming) as it "outperforms large-scale industrial farming for global food security." He cited the "widest study ever conducted on agroecological approaches" that found an average crop gain of 79 percent from going organic.

Where is the biotech industry - and the U.S. government - getting its statements if not from facts and studies? Try market research. Beginning in 1997, the International Food Information Council began researching consumer acceptance of GE foods. Consumers didn't - and still don't - know much about biotechnology. In 1997, only 53 percent said they had heard nothing or "a little" about biotechnology, and that number went up to 66 percent in 2010. In 2010, nearly two-thirds did not know if any foods produced through biotechnology were in the supermarket, and eight percent said they thought there were not any biotech foods in supermarkets. The 28 percent who gave the correct answer - yes - proved their ignorance in the next question when they named which GE foods they thought were available commercially. Top wrong answers included vegetables (37 percent), fruits (19 percent, although to be fair, papayas can be GE), and meat, eggs, or fish (14 percent). Whereas most corn, soy, and canola are genetically engineered (and those are ingredients in most processed foods), only 21 percent named corn, four percent named soy, and less than one percent named processed foods.

So what do biotech companies do with such consumer ignorance? Acceptance of their products is something they are clearly worried about, as they do not ever label any foods as genetically engineered. (Currently labeling genetically engineered foods is not required, although a bill recently introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich would require it.) But as they've watched their market research show little signs that a majority of consumers are warming up to GE foods over the past decade, they've hit upon a few messages that work. While only 32 percent of 2010 survey respondents say they view biotechnology as "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable," a whopping 77 percent said they would be very or somewhat likely to buy a produce item like a tomato that was genetically engineered to require fewer pesticides.

They asked one question three times in three various forms: "How likely would you be to buy bread, crackers, cookies, cereals, or pasta made with flour from wheat that had been modified by biotechnology?" While only 41 percent initially responded favorably, 73 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to buy that product if it were modified to require less land, water, and/or pesticides. That number goes up to 80 percent if that GE wheat was "produced using sustainable practices to feed more people using less resources (such as land and pesticides)." Voila! The magic bullets for biotech acceptance: feeding the world and reducing pesticide use.

Clearly this is advice that biotech companies have taken to heart. And it's apparently convincing enough that it is winning over influential figures and government officials, even if their last job wasn't at a Monsanto-funded non-profit. The key phrase to look for is "In order to feed a population of nine billion people, the world needs to double food production by 2050." Typically a plea for biotechnology and genetic engineering specifically or a more general call for using science and technology to achieve this goal follows such a statement. A few years ago, one might have only heard this rhetoric at the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization conference, but by 2009 it was on the lips of such luminaries as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAD Chief Tom Vilsack. Food production alone is not the problem, as the world currently produces enough food to feed every person on earth and yet one billion people are hungry. Nor is food production in the future necessarily the problem, as the calculation that we need to double food production relies on an assumption that the rest of the world will adopt an American-style diet heavy on factory farmed grain-fed meat (a prospect that the climate crisis and the end of oil make less probable each day). But the idea is such an attractive one that it is now the basis of a new government initiative called Feed the Future, aimed at exporting U.S. biotechnology to the developing world. Apparently the Obama administration never got the memo that the biotech industry's "feed the world" rhetoric was based on market research to promote GE food acceptance among Americans and not on its ability to deliver.
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

Here It Is Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Top Ten LIST:

H.R. 5577 -- Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act
Tell Congress to Label Monsanto's Frankenfoods
Take Action Now!
And Here!

Read about this bill

Ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor Rep. Dennis Kucinich's Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act (H.R. 5577).

Top 10 Reasons to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

10. Almost all of the food eaten in the U.S. today (that isn't certified organic) contains ingredients that come from genetically engineered crops or animals given genetically engineered feed, vaccines or growth hormones.

9. The genetically engineered foods we eat every day have not been tested to determine whether they are safe for human consumption. Monsanto got a permit to poison us from the Bush-Quayle Food and Drug Administration. Under their edict, which remains in effect today, the risks of genetically engineered foods are assumed to be no different from those of normal food. New foods are tested only if the companies do it.

8. Genetically engineered foods ARE different from conventional and organic foods.

7. A human study conducted by the UK's Food Standards Agency found that a single serving of genetically engineered soy can result in "horizontal gene transfer," where the bacteria of the gut takes up the modified DNA from the soy.

6. Animals fed genetically engineered feed ARE different from animals fed conventional and organic feeds.

5. A study of hamsters fed genetically engineered soy for two years over three generations, showed that by the third generation, most genetically-engineered-soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, a high mortality rate, and a bizarre birth defect: fur growing in their mouths.

4. More than half the babies from mother rats fed genetically engineered soy died within three weeks, a rate more than five times higher than the 10% death rate of the conventional soy group. The babies in the genetically engineered group were also smaller and could not reproduce. The testicles of male rats fed genetically engineered soy changed from the normal pink to dark blue, with noticeable differences at the cellular level. The more genetically engineered corn fed to mice, the fewer the babies they had, and the smaller the babies were.

3. Investigations of genetically engineered foods are confirming scientists' suspicions that biotech's scatter-shot technique of spraying plant cells with a buckshot of foreign genes that hit chromosomes in random spots would trigger the expression of new allergens and change the character of plant proteins.

2. Independent scientists who reviewed animal feeding studies conducted by Monsanto found that Monsanto's own data revealed the dangers of three of their commonly used corn varieties, proving "that genetically engineered foods are neither sufficiently healthy or proper to be commercialized."

1. Genetic engineering is a threat to biodiversity, the amount and variety of life on the planet. Evidence is mounting of the adverse effects that genetic engineering is having on lifeforms from soil microorganisms to bees and other beneficial insects to mammals and humans.


The killing fields of MNCsThe killing fields of MNCs
Jul 14th, 2010 -- Vandana Shiva

The Bhopal gas tragedy was the worst industrial disaster in human history. Twenty-five thousand people died, 500,000 were injured, and the injustice done to the victims of Bhopal over the past 25 years will go down as the worst case of jurisprudence ever.
The gas leak in Bhopal in December 1984 was from the Union Carbide pesticide plant which manufactured “carabaryl” (trade name “sevin”) — a pesticide used mostly in cotton plants. It was, in fact, because of the Bhopal gas tragedy and the tragedy of extremist violence in Punjab that I woke up to the fact that agriculture had become a war zone. Pesticides are war chemicals that kill — every year 220,000 people are killed by pesticides worldwide.
After research I realised that we do not need toxic pesticides that kill humans and other species which maintain the web of life. Pesticides do not control pests, they create pests by killing beneficial species. We have safer, non-violent alternatives such as neem. That is why at the time of the Bhopal disaster I started the campaign “No more Bhopals, plant a neem”. The neem campaign led to challenging the biopiracy of neem in 1994 when I found that a US multinational, W.R. Grace, had patented neem for use as pesticide and fungicide and was setting up a neem oil extraction plant in Tumkur, Karnataka. We fought the biopiracy case for 11 years and were eventually successful in striking down the biopiracy patent.
Meanwhile, the old pesticide industry was mutating into the biotechnology and genetic engineering industry. While genetic engineering was promoted as an alternative to pesticides, Bt cotton was introduced to end pesticide use. But Bt cotton has failed to control the bollworm and has instead created major new pests, leading to an increase in pesticide use.
The high costs of genetically-modified (GM) seeds and pesticides are pushing farmers into debt, and indebted farmers are committing suicide. If one adds the 200,000 farmer suicides in India to the 25,000 killed in Bhopal, we are witnessing a massive corporate genocide — the killing of people for super profits. To maintain these super profits, lies are told about how, without pesticides and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), there will be no food. In fact, the conclusions of International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, undertaken by the United Nations, shows that ecologically organic agriculture produces more food and better food at lower cost than either chemical agriculture or GMOs.
The agrochemical industry and its new avatar, the biotechnology industry, do not merely distort and manipulate knowledge, science and public policy. They also manipulate the law and the justice system. The reason justice has been denied to the victims of Bhopal is because corporations want to escape liability. Freedom from liability is, in fact, the real meaning of “free trade”. The tragedy of Bhopal is dual. Interestingly, the Bhopal disaster happened precisely when corporations were seeking deregulation and freedom from liability through the instruments of “free trade”, “trade liberalisation” and “globalisation”, both through bilateral pressure and through the Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation.
Injustice for Bhopal has been used to tell corporations that they can get away with murder. This is what senior politicians communicated to Dow Chemical. This is what the US-India Commission for Environmental Cooperation forum stated on June 11, 2010, in the context of the call from across India for justice for Bhopal victims. As one newspaper commented, Bhopal is being seen as a “road block and impediment to trade… the recommendations include removing road blocks to commercial trade by (India), and adoption of a nuclear liability regime”.
Denial of justice to Bhopal has been the basis of all toxic investments since Bhopal, be it Bt cotton, DuPont’s nylon plant or the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill.
Just as Bhopal victims were paid a mere Rs 12,000 (approximately $250) each, the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill also seeks to put a ceiling on liability of a mere $100 million on private operations of a nuclear power plant in case of a nuclear accident. Once again, people can be killed but corporations should not have to pay.
There has also been an intense debate in India on GMOs. An attempt was made by Monsanto/Mahyco to introduce Bt brinjal in 2009. As a result of public hearings across the country, a moratorium has been put on its commercialisation. Immediately after the moratorium a bill was introduced for a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India —the bill does not only leave the biotechnology industry free of liability, but it also has a clause which empowers the government to arrest and fine those of us who question the need and safety of GMOs.
From Bhopal to pesticides to GMOs to nuclear plants, there are two lessons we can draw. One is that corporations introd­u­ce hazardous technologies like pe­sticides and GMOs for profits, and profits alone. And second le­sson, related to trade, is that corporations are seeking to ex­p­a­nd markets and relocate haza­r­d­o­us and environmentally costly te­c­hnologies to countries like India.
Corporates seek to globalise production but they do not want to globalise justice and rights. The difference in the treatment of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical in the context of Bhopal, and of BP in the context of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows how an apartheid is being created. The devaluation of the life of people of the Third World and ecosystems is built into the project of globalisation. Globalisation is leading to the outsourcing of pollution — hazardous substances and technologies — to the Third World. This is at the heart of globalisation — the economies of genocide.
Lawrence Summers, who was the World Bank’s chief economist and is now chief economic adviser to the Obama government, in a memo dated December 12, 1991, to senior World Bank staff, wrote, “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the less developed countries?”
Since wages are low in the Third World, economic costs of pollution arising from increased illness and death are least in the poorest countries. According to Mr Summers, the logic “of relocation of pollutants in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that”.
All this and Bhopal must teach us to reclaim our universal and common humanity and build an Earth Democracy in which all are equal, and corporations are not allowed to get away with crimes against people and the planet.

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust