WB01343_.gif (599 bytes)  Pesticide and Environmental Update

GM Foods: Chew on this


From the Toronto Star 

Please chew on this, Monsanto: Modified food has eaters fed up 

As you tuck the left-over turkey back in the fridge, reflect on this: everybody eats. Every human creature on the earth not only eats to live, but has a particularly intimate and personal relationship with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Because of this human propensity to eat and to care about what we eat, a funny thing happened this year to Monsanto, one of the world's most overwhelmingly arrogant transnational corporations, as it rushed to the bank. It tripped and fell flat on its face. It got up and fell flat on its face again. And the series of hugely comical pratfalls kept escalating as the year dwindled to its close: most recently, Monsanto tried to hook up with another megacorporation, only to see its share price (and that of its would-be new partner) tumble.

How did it happen? Simple. The lowliest creature on the corporate food chain - the ordinary citizen or, if you will, consumer - stuck out a foot as Monsanto lumbered past.

By now, the biggest bully on the block is beginning to look a bit ridiculous. Not to mention romantically undesirable. 

``Monsanto has had trouble finding a partner, because its agricultural-chemical business, which makes genetically altered seeds and weed killers like RoundUp, is facing consumer backlash,'' The Star's business section solemnly reported last week.

And that ain't the half of it! 

Imagine, if you will, a corporation so rapacious that it created a seed genetically altered so that it wouldn't reproduce after harvesting, forcing even the poorest Third World farmer to buy fresh seed every year - a corporation so soulless that it called the seed Terminator. Last summer, however, Monsanto had to back off its touted commercial development of Terminator because of world-wide farmer resistance.

Meanwhile, Monsanto was exposed as having used unsavoury pressure tactics to force Canadian approval of its creepy bovine growth hormone. Luckily, because a few brave Canadian scientists blew the whistle, Canadian cows will not be hormone-drugged into toxic over-production of milk, complete with chronically infected udders.

Now, several powerful American law firms have joined in a class action suit against Monsanto and other bio-tech companies, accusing them of trying to establish a global cartel in genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Since I first began writing about genetically modified food a year or so ago, I've been fascinated by the rapid escalation in the GM food wars. GM foods have proved to be the perfect tool (remember, everybody eats) to enlist otherwise apathetic citizens in stubborn resistance to runaway corporate power.

The knee-jerk response by industry types was to accuse GM critics of ``hysteria.'' Every corporate pinstripe from President Bill Clinton to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman rolled out the sonorous vocabulary, intoning magical words like ``sound science,'' ``reason,'' ``objectivity'' and ``truth'' in order to drown out the supposedly irrational, hysterical, unscientific, unsound shrieks, screams and frothings of the peasant revolt.

Problem: The suits don't have science on their side. It is they who look giddy and ``unsound'' in their rush to embrace permanently life-altering technologies without properly and objectively studying the long-term consequences.

Already, ugly and possibly irreversible damage is being registered as a result of GM crops. Monarch butterflies, it appears, are dying from the toxins exuded in the pollen and leaves of GM corn, engineered to repel insects. And crops engineered to withstand pesticides (Round Up Ready soya, for example) expose earth, air and water to levels of pesticides that may harm all human life. Just this month, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons cited new studies demonstrating that pesticide exposure led to higher rates of prostate cancer and lower sperm production in adults, and immune system damage and lower intelligence in children. 

Governments in Europe and India are now taking action against engineered seeds and crops that contaminate neighbouring fields and could lead to permanent loss of food safety. 

Aah, how delicious: the ignorant and hysterical peasants, it seems, were right all along. At the beginning of 1999, Monsanto was poised to enforce its GM crops, Terminator seeds, and life-form patents on the entire world. But massive rejection of GM foods has spread from Europe to Asia and now to North America. Even Mexico's biggest tortilla maker will boycott GM grain. And now, 30 of Canada's most elegant chefs have called for mandatory labelling of all genetically modified foods.

Label them, I agree - the better to shun them. Consumer clout, as we have learned this year, is the one thing these transnational bullies can't stand.

Next month, the 135 countries of the World Trade Organization will meet in Montreal to discuss the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. I can't wait for more ``unscientific hysteria'' to be demonstrated in the streets to force these biobullies out of hiding. Let them prove the scientific safety of their products before they force them down the world's throats.

Meanwhile, it's fun to watch Monsanto reeling about, now admitting that it has been ``too arrogant,'' now trying to brush off the ever-mounting heap of failures.

Just this week, the caterer at Monsanto's own London, England staff canteen announced that it would refuse to use genetically modified foods.

A Monsanto spokesman dismissed the news as ``a Christmas story.''

Yes, indeed. The Jolly Gene Giant, caught red-faced in the pantry once again, his sack of mutated corn chips slung over his shoulder while the intruder alarm goes off.

Ho ho ho.