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Synthesis/Regeneration 26   (Fall 2001)

Genetic Engineering Update

edited from Biodemocracy News #134
by Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

ABC reported on June 20 that according to a recent ABC News poll, 52% of Americans generally, and 62% of women, believe that genetically modified foods are unsafe, and an additional 13% are unsure about them; 93% say the federal government should require labels on food saying whether it's been genetically modified; 57% also say they would be less likely to buy foods labeled as genetically modified; and "barely more than a third of the public believes that genetically modified foods are safe to eat." While only 5% of Americans say they'd be more likely to buy a food labeled as genetically modified, 52% say they'd be more likely to buy food that's labeled as having been raised organically. In Europe and Asia 70-80% of consumers remain firmly opposed to GE foods.

Reports of genetic pollution and genetic drift continue to proliferate. According to a CBC (Canada) radio broadcast (6/2/01), genetically engineered canola plants are showing up in farmers' fields all across the Canadian prairie, even though many of them have never planted GE seeds. Martin Phillipson, a University of Saskatchewan law professor, said that Monsanto may be liable for damages if their gene-altered, herbicide resistant canola continues to spread. "The GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it would," said Martin Entz, a plant scientist at the University of Manitoba. "It's absolutely impossible to control."

Similar genetic pollution has been reported in the US by farmers growing organic corn and certified "GMO-free" soybeans. Cropchoice.com reported on May 21 that Monsanto has continued suing "hundreds" of US farmers for "patent infringement," for the "crime" of having genetically engineered plants growing on their property without paying royalty payments to Monsanto. Several farmers being sued by Monsanto are fighting back, however, filing counter-lawsuits in North Dakota and Illinois, claiming that Monsanto is deliberately causing genetic pollution, and then turning around and suing innocent farmers who are victims of this genetic trespass.

Reports of genetic pollution and genetic drift continue to proliferate.

US trade representatives, working hard to engender a growing sense of fatalism regarding the "impossibility" of growing "GE-free" soybeans, corn, and canola, have told EU bureaucrats that it is unreasonable and "unworkable" to expect anything less that 5% genetic contamination in non-GMO grain exports. (Financial Times 6/20/01) The US government has warned EU officials that their proposed mandatory labeling and traceability requirements for genetically engineered grains and foods violate World Trade Organization rules mandating free trade and could subject EU countries to major WTO sanctions and fines. (Reuters 6/1/01) In a May 18 letter to US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers of American, and 17 other farm and commodity giants warned the EU's proposed regulations threaten "a $4 billion US agricultural export market."

A thousand protesters took to the streets in San Diego, Calif., on June 25-26, challenging industry leaders gathered for the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention. The street protests, preceded by three days of "Biodevastation" teach-ins and workshops, generated extensive media coverage across North America. In one San Diego protest, activists from the Ruckus Society unfurled a giant 1,500 square-foot banner in front of the Convention Hall, which read "Biotech Perverts-Get Out of Our Genes." "There are thousands of biotech industry representatives coming to town, who are perverting agriculture, science, nature and democracy as we know it. These perversions impact human health and the well-being of all life," stated Shannon Service, a Biodevastation protest leader. Activists barricaded the offices of the Novartis biotech corporation in a suburb of Minneapolis on June 25, in solidarity with the Biodevastation protests in San Diego. Police broke down the doors and arrested the protesters.

The biotech industry is alarmed by a proposed ballot initiative in Denver, Colorado, next November which will give voters a chance to vote on whether genetically engineered foods should be served in area schools, given that these foods have not been proven to be safe. After a heated debate in the media over several weeks, the Denver Post published an editorial June 1 calling for mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods. (http://www.non-gmosource.com/)

The success of the Denver effort in raising the level of debate over Frankenfoods in Colorado has inspired the Organic Consumers Association and a number of Green Party activists to discuss joining efforts with local activists (and national networks such as the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods) to get city council resolutions and initiatives on the ballot all across the US. State ballot initiatives on GE foods are also underway in Washington (http://www.washingtonrighttoknow.com/), Oregon (http://www.labelgefoods.org/), and other states. For more information, visit http://www.purefood.org/.

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