From Oakland to Montreal
Little Marais, Minnesota
Less than two weeks after "The Battle of Seattle," on December 13, 1999 the Organic Consumers Association managed to organize, with the support of a new national coalition called GEAN (Genetic Engineering Action Network), a noon street protest of over a thousand people outside Food and Drug Administration hearings on genetically engineered foods in Oakland, California. The New York Times (Dec. 14) correctly identified the protest as "the largest rally ever in the United States against the use of genetic engineering in food." In the week leading up to the protest the OCA telephone bank called 10,000 contacts in the San Francisco Bay area, while GEAN volunteers handed out 20,000 leaflets to consumers in front of supermarkets and natural food grocery stores. Both over the telephone and in the streets, the reaction of Californians to our "Say No to Frankenfoods" message was overwhelmingly positive. There is no longer any doubt that the global controversy over genetically engineered foods and crops has spread to the USA.
Five weeks later on January 22 in sub-zero temperatures, a thousand spirited demonstrators marched through the streets of Montreal, denouncing the governments of the so-called "Miami Group" (the U.S., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) for trying to subvert a Biosafety Treaty that would regulate the multi-billion dollar international trade in genetically engineered foods and organisms. Chanting "Life before profits!" and "We will not be guinea pigs," an internationalist contingent, mobilized by Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians, called for a global moratorium on gene-foods and crops. At a news conference the day before, a protester threw a pie in the face of Joyce Groote, the genetic engineering industry's top lobbyist in Canada.
But street protests in Oakland and Montreal are just the most visible signs of increasing resistance in North America. Since the last issue of BioDemocracy News, the Gene Giants and the Miami Group have suffered a number of setbacks, including the following:
As we mentioned in the last issue of BioDemocracy News, the agbiotech industry has launched an unprecedented multi-million dollar PR campaign to counteract the growing power of the anti-GE movement across the globe. As Edward Shonsey, CEO of Novartis told the New York Times last year, anti-genetic engineering campaigners have "crossed the boundaries of reasonableness, and now it's up to us to protect and defend biotechnology." To protect and defend Frankenfoods, Novartis has launched a new website <http://www.webackbiotech.com> where, among other things, you can send off for a bumper sticker and auto license plate holder inscribed with the slogan "We Back Biotech."
As Canadian activist Brewster Kneen points out in his excellent newsletter, The Ram's Horn <http://www.ramshorn.bc.ca> the biotech industry has "turned hysterical over the loss of control over the media" and has launched an all-out effort to discredit its critics and brainwash the public. As the Ram's Horn (January 2000) puts it: "The flood of well-programmed letters-to-the-editor, op-ed pieces, and planted articles spewing the party line on the wonders of biotech and decrying what they describe as the malicious intentions of those who resist it, is obviously not spontaneous."
In addition to its PR and media campaign, the agbiotech lobby has recently gone on the offensive:
Reuters reported January 28 that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. had reversed its four-month-old company position on requiring farmers to segregate genetically engineered corn and soybeans. ADM Chairman G. Allen Andreas told the Chicago Tribune that "the pendulum is beginning to turn back" on the controversy surrounding GE crops.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3 million businesses, announced in early January that they were becoming a member of the pro-biotech trade association, the Alliance for Better Foods. Bill Kovacs, the Chamber's vice-president for environmental and regulatory affairs, told the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald January 5 "We are trying to raise the awareness of the business community that if you permit an assault on this technology, you are really opening the door for an assault on all technology."
Thirty-five powerful industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Farm Bureau, the National Food Processors Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told a U.S. Congressional subcommittee January 28 not to require labeling or safety-testing of genetically engineered foods. Mandatory labels would "send the misleading message that the government is not confident of the safety of the U.S. food supply," the groups stated. Specifically the 35 groups told Congress not to support a mandatory labeling bill introduced last year by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat. Kucinich's bill currently has several dozen Congressional co-sponsors.
Cargill, the nation's largest grain buyer, reaffirmed in December that it would accept genetically engineered crops at all of it grain elevators across North America. Cargill's announcement "settled down the market," according to Sano Shimoda of BioScience Securities, a brokerage and investment banking firm in the San Francisco Bay area. "Farmers are [now] feeling a lot more comfortable planting genetically enhanced seed varieties," Shimodo told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune January17. According to the Tribune "some analysts who advise farm-commodity traders in Chicago are softening predictions they made last fall that farmers would back away from the new varieties. This GMO acreage may not be down as much as we had thought when the hype and concern was intensifying last fall," said Rich Feltes, an analyst for Refco Inc. of Chicago.
Monsanto announced January 17 major plans for expanding GE cotton cultivation in China. According to a Monsanto press release there are already two million farmers in China growing Bt cotton, while 2000 scientists in 137 labs across the country are working on new biotech crops.
The Farm Bureau published poll results on Jan. 11 -- reprinted in newspapers all across the United States -- which supposedly found that "Nearly three-fourths of American consumers would support genetically modified crops if the technology means farmers can reduce pesticide use." Of course as BioDemocracy News has previously pointed out, even official USDA statistics for 1997-98 show that farmers planting GE crops have not reduced their use of pesticides, and in fact in many cases are using more. See < http://www.biotech-info.net >The Farm Bureau poll follows in the wake of a number of other rather dubious polls purporting to prove that American consumers support agbiotech. For an expose of the American biotech industry's favorite pollster Thomas Hoban, see <http://www.purefood.org/ge/hoban.cfm>
On January 12, at a public meeting in Spokane, Washington, Dr. Michael Phillips, a spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, announced that legislation will be introduced in Congress to make it a federal crime to trespass on or damage experimental agricultural test plots of genetically engineered crops.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman reaffirmed on January 10 that the federal government is not likely to require U.S. food companies and grocery stores to put labels on genetically engineered foods. At a press conference in Washington, Glickman stated "I, at this stage, do not see any of what I call mandatory or regulatory activities taking place from the government which will order anybody to do anything with respect to these issues, whether it's labeling or anything else."
On February 4, ABC national TV aired a program attacking the safety of organic food, alleging that animal manure-based compost fertilizers used on organic farms are contributing factors to America's ongoing E-coli food poisoning epidemic, and that claims that organic foods are safer and more nutritious than conventional foods are fraudulent. The "20-20" news program was directed by the infamous anti-environmental TV journalist, John Stossel, aided and abetted by agbiotech's favorite "scientific expert," Dennis Avery. For an expose of Dennis Avery see the back issue of this newsletter on our website (CFS News #16) or else the current issue of PR Watch <http://www.prwatch.org/99Q4/avery.html>
Published in In Motion Magazine March 3, 2000.
The Campaign for Food Safety is a public interest organization dedicated to building a healthy, safe, and sustainable system of food production and consumption. We are a global clearinghouse for information and grassroots technical assistance.To subscribe to the monthly electronic newsletter, BioDemocracy News, send an email message to: < email@example.com > with the simple message: subscribe pure-food-action.
Affiliated with the Organic Consumers Association <www.organicconsumers.org>
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