From: Geri Guidetti
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 8:09 PM
Subject: Food Supply Update
Food Supply Update: January 2002
Sowing the Seeds of Insecurity: Last Year Provides Clues to the Future of Food
Copyright 2002, by Geri Guidetti
The Ark Institute, P.O. Box 142, Oxford, Ohio 45056
Web site: www.arkinstitute.com
Note: This and all Food Supply Updates may be reprinted or distributed
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An ill-wind blew across Percy Schmeiser's land in 1996. Today in his 70s, the
third-generation Saskatchewan, Canada, farmer has been growing and improving
his own canola (oil seed) crops for 40 years. Each year, he would save some of
his harvested seed for planting the following year. Though some farmers in the
surrounding area were growing Monsanto's patented, genetically modified (GM)
Roundup Ready canola, Schmeiser was not. He was growing his own, but the
wind blew and bees flew, both apparently carrying grains of GM pollen from
neighboring fields into Schmeiser's crop. Or maybe it was GM seed transported
from surrounding farms that often blew off trucks traveling the roads adjacent to
Schmeiser's land. No matter. Without his knowledge or consent, errant, patented
Monsanto genes had apparently been incorporated into some of the Schmeiser
family's 1997-harvested canola seed.
In 1998, the farmer planted over a thousand acres of his land with the seed he
had saved from the previous year's crop. A hired Monsanto investigator
analyzed samples of canola plants taken from Percy Schmeiser's land, and the
company found evidence of its patented genes in the plant tissue. When
Schmeiser refused to pay Monsanto fees for use of its patented herbicide
resistance technology, technology he neither bought nor wanted, Monsanto
sued him. According to a report on the trial (www.percyschmeiser.com),
Monsanto sought damages for patent infringement totaling $400,000. This
included about $250,000 in legal fees, $13,500 for technology fees, $25,000
in punitive damages and $105,000 in the profits Schmeiser realized from sale
of his contaminated 1998 crop.
Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser was heard in a Canadian court June 5 - 20, 2000.
According to reports, Monsanto never directly tried to explain how their genes
got into Schmeiser's field. In fact, the Western Producer, a Canadian agriculture
magazine, quoted Monsanto attorney, Roger Hughes, as saying, "Whether
Mr. Schmeiser knew of the matter or not matters not at all." In other words,
Schmeiser's fields were contaminated by Monsanto's GM technology, and it
didn't matter if Schmeiser was aware of the contamination or not. They were
going to make him pay for it! Percy Schmeiser said, "It was a very frightening
thing because they said it does not matter how it gets into a farmer's field; it's their
property... if I would go to St. Louis (Monsanto headquarters) and contaminate
their plots--destroy what they have worked on for 40 years--I think I would be
put in jail and the key thrown away."
On March 29, 2001, nearly three years since the contaminated canola was
discovered in Schmeiser's field, Canadian Judge W. Andrew MacKay agreed
with Monsanto that it did not matter how its genes got onto Percy Schmeiser's
fields; the farmer was still guilty of having them without having paid for the
privilege. (You can read the entire decision at http://www.fct-cf.gc.ca ). Sadly,
as part of the damages, the farmer also lost 40 years of work improving his own
canola seed line, as his crop was confiscated.
As you might imagine, the decision has had a chilling effect on farmers here and
around the world. The Washington Post reported that a National Farmers Union
spokesman said the organization has been following the Monsanto vs. Schmeiser
case "...with apprehension. We're extremely concerned by what liabilities may
unfold for the farmer, particularly with cross-pollination of genetically modified plants."
The National Farmers Union represents 300,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers.
Monsanto has filed hundreds of similar patent infringement lawsuits against farmers
in the U.S. and Canada. Some of those farmers in North Dakota and Illinois are
counter-suing the company for deliberately causing genetic pollution and then suing
its victims. Win or lose, many face financial ruin from the court battles alone.
The Percy Schmeiser case, and others ongoing and to come, do not bode well for
farmers, or even backyard gardeners, here or abroad. The idea that individuals
can be held legally and financially responsible for the fate of patented pollen and
seed blown by the wind or carried by insects in open field conditions is simply
absurd. In fact, Monsanto knows it and maintained that all a farmer has to do if
he or she discovers Monsanto's patented plants growing on their land is to call the
company and they will come out and take care of the problem.
For starters, how would a farmer even know his field had been contaminated with
Roundup Ready GM canola? The plants are often visually indistinguishable. The
only way he'd know is by spraying his crop with Monsanto's Roundup herbicide
to see if it had resistance. Obviously, he wouldn't do that because the herbicide
would kill his own non-resistant, non-GM crop! Percy Schmeiser and other
farmers regularly spray Roundup around telephone poles surrounding their fields to
keep them clear of crops and weeds.. When Schmeiser had sprayed around his
telephone poles in 1997, he was surprised to see that some of the canola plants did
not die. He suspected contamination.
If a farmer does identify GM plants in his field, according to Ann Clark of Plant
Agriculture, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Monsanto would likely come
out and spray the offending plants with the herbicide of choice, 2,4-D. But, as a
farmer, would you call the company if their offending plants were interspersed
with your own crop, the latter likely to be killed or damaged by the toxic herbicide?
Such treatment would be especially catastrophic for an organic farmer whose field
could no longer be certifiable as organic for years to come.
In fact, a group of Saskatchewan organic farmers is now suing Monsanto and Aventis
because their fields are literally being invaded by GM canola plants making it
impossible for them to sell their crops as non-genetically modified. The European
Union strictly prohibits GM canola. Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan
Organic Directorate, told CBC News Online, "Since (the companies) started five, six
years ago, it has been virtually impossible to find any seed stock that's uncontaminated."
For some perspective on the potential scope of the GM gene pollution problem, in the
year 2000, Monsanto's GM seed was planted on 103 million acres worldwide,
accounting for 94% of the global area sown to genetically modified seed (RAFI). The
potential for the GM contamination of millions of more acres of land and for thousands
more victim farmers is simply mind-boggling. In fact, in June, 2001, Canadian CBC
radio reported that genetically engineered canola plants had spread across the Canadian
prairies.. University of Manitoba plant scientist, Martin Entz said that GM canola
had spread much more rapidly than originally thought and that it was "absolutely
impossible to control."
Impossible to control also describes another 2001 GM debacle--the contamination
of U.S. food supplies with StarLink corn, a GM corn intended by French parent
company, Aventis, for animal consumption only. StarLink contains an insecticidal toxin,
Cry9C protein, 50-100 times more than that in GM corn intended for humans. The
protein had the potential to trigger severe allergic reactions. Aventis had assured EPA
officials that StarLink would only be sold to farmers growing it for livestock. Dealers
selling the corn would see to it that each farmer signed an agreement to provide a
660-foot buffer strip around his or her StarLink fields to prevent contamination of
nearby cornfields with StarLink pollen. Grain elevators were also to be told at the time
of sale that the corn was not for human consumption. Sadly, virtually every level of the
program to protect humans failed miserably.
During the year 1998, 10,000 acres in the U.S. were planted to StarLink. In 1999, it had
grown to 250,000 acres. By 2000, StarLink corn was planted on 350,000 acres in the
U.S. and co-mingled with other corns by 2200 farmers in 12 states, according to Seed
Savers Exhange. During 2000, 98 of Iowa's 99 counties grew StarLink! About 10% of
all corn stored in the U.S. is now contaminated with StarLink corn.
In 2001, the USDA earmarked up to $20 million of taxpayers' money, money originally
intended for natural disaster relief for farmers, to help buy back 300,000 to 400,000
bags of contaminated seed. Containment, not control, was the only possible solution, as
the damage to the U.S. seed stocks is permanent. The genes are "out there", replicating
themselves in the chromosomes of other corn varieties meant for human consumption,
and likely finding their way into any food containing corn products such as corn syrup
and corn starch--nearly every sweetened, thickened product in the "modern" diet. If there
is any reassuring news in this new reality, it is that the concentration of Cry9C is likely to
be so low in current and future foods contaminated with the original StarLink genes that
allergic reactions to this particular protein are highly improbable. That is, however, very
small comfort given the scope and biological significance of this single genetic event.
August, 2001, was a particular low point in the battle for a ban on the Terminator gene
technology. Terminator technologies use genetic engineering techniques to program a
plant's DNA to kill its own embryos (suicide seed) thus forming sterile seed. The
plant-to-seed-to-plant-to-seed, etc, cycle of life is broken, preventing a farmer from saving
harvested seed to grow next season. It will ensure that farmers must return to the seed
company year after year to purchase expensive seed, often with heavy GM seed technology
licensing fees added. The first Terminator was created and announced by our own U.S.
Department of Agriculture in partnership with a U.S.-based cotton seed company, Delta &
Pine Land Company. They were granted a U.S. patent on the technology in 1998. (See
June, 1998 Food Supply Update at www.arkinstitute.com). In August, the USDA announced
that it had agreed to license the technology to its corporate partner, the first step toward
commercialization. Delta & Pine Land Co. has said it has e"USDA's decision to license
Terminator flies in the face of international public opinion and betrays the public trust," said
RAFI research-director, Hope Shand. "Terminator technology has been universally
condemned by civil society; banned by international agricultural research institutes; censured
by United Nations bodies....and yet the U.S. Government has officially sanctioned
commercialization of the technology by licensing it to one of the world's largest seed companies."
Silvia Ribeiro, also of RAFI, added, "USDA's role in developing Terminator seeds is a
disgraceful example of corporate welfare, involving a technology that is bad for farmers,
dangerous for the environment, and disastrous for world food security."
The USDA and Delta & Pine Land Company, at last count, own three Terminator patents.
This is an egregious use of U.S. taxpayers' dollars to support corporate profits instead of
public good, to advance the portfolios of restrictive corporate patents on life instead of
improving the lives and livelihoods of U.S. farmers and the consumers they serve. Terminator
technologies will not be a boon to U.S. farmers or struggling Third World farmers who are
considered prime targets for Terminator seeds. It will make them ever more dependent on
the corporate seed and chemical companies.
Remember, once the genetic genie is out of the bottle, you can't put it back. If Terminator
genes pollute surrounding fields and wild plants, the consequences will be far greater than
the corn debacle. Neighboring farmer's crops may produce sterile seed.. What if that farmer
is a seed grower, growing seed stocks for the country's next crops? Multiply that scenario by
tens of thousands of farmers. Can Terminator eventually terminate all seeding plants? No one,
not a single corporation or government official, can assure you it will not. Remember Percy
Schmeiser! Remember StarLink!
Here is a rundown of Terminator patent holdings current to 2001: Syngenta (Novartis) has
two Terminator patents. Syngenta (Zeneca) has four. Delta & Pine Land/USDA have three.
BASF (ExSeed Genetics, LLC/Iowa State University) have one. DuPont (Pioneer Hi-Bred)
has one. Pharmacia (Monsanto) have one. Cornell Research Foundation has one. Purdue
Research Foundation (with support from USDA) has one.
It is important to take stock of where we have been in the big food picture in recent years
because it speaks volumes about where we might be going this year and beyond. In light of
the September attacks on the U.S., it is critical that we pay attention to every aspect of our
food supply system with unprecedented vigilance. The truth about security with respect to
food and terrorism is simple, really: there is none. The Schmeiser decision, StarLink tragedy
and Terminators all point to a future in which individuals will have little or no control over
the content of the food they eat, and little control over production. If individuals are
discouraged by court decisions from feeding themselves--if they abdicate all rights to control
the ways and means of livelihood and food production, turning control over, like serfs, to
their corporate lords, then we are lost.
For years these Food Supply Updates have discussed the insanities of a food production
system growing ever more concentrated, technology, oil and chemical dependent,
biologically and chemically contaminated, remote from its nearly 300 million completely
dependent consumers, and controlled, from seed to mouth, by a relative handful of very
powerful people. The long list of cumulative observations and warnings voiced in this
newsletter over the years (read earlier Food Supply Udates archived at www.arkinstitute.com )
could just as easily be viewed as an ongoing tutorial for those determined to ferret out our
vulnerabilities. Our vulnerabilities can easily become someone else's opportunities.
We must keep one watchful eye on our current food supply security system, a "blanket" riddled
with holes, and the other on the ongoing, ominous shift in the control of food from the farmer and consumer, to governments and a few very powerful, multinational corporations. How might our
new agricultural technologies be used against us? Is Terminator gene technology a potential
terrorist weapon? What is the relationship between "X" government with "Y" corporation? What
is their global agenda? See what I mean? It is a daunting task, but more than ever, our lives
may depend on it. Stay tuned... Geri Guidetti, The Ark Institute.