The intrepid investigative reporting team of Donald Bartlett and James Steele has taken on Monsanto in the current issue of Vanity Fair, of all places (I am most familiar with their prize-winning but controversial work for Time, which fired them in 2006). Monsanto is the company that brought us genetically modified bovine growth hormone and Roundup-Ready corn and soybeans, and, of course Roundup itself. Bartlett and Steele have much to say about the company’s methods for enforcing its patent rights and casual dealings with worker safety. It’s a long article, but worth reading.
Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)
According to a report in Food Chemical News, Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley who has written extensively about agricultural policy, says “environmental populists” in the United States and the European Union have imposed on Africa, their [our?] favoring of “small, traditional farms that grow organic crops and heirloom varieties…[equating] agricultural science with large farms, mistreatment of animals, enrichment of agribusiness corporations, and unpalatable and unhealthy food.” The resulting “hostility to science-based farming” has been devastating to Africa and other impoverished regions. How? “No African country allows cultivation of biotech crops except South Africa.” Is biotechnology the solution to Africa’s agricultural problems? As I read it, the technology is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go (see the March 20 Nature article on development of drought-resistant crops). But then, I still think Africa’s agricultural problems would be easier to solve with social, not necessarily technological, changes. But I guess that makes me an environmental populist. How about you?
Why Monsanto chose to go after Percy Schmeiser is beyond me. You might remember the case: Monsanto sued this Canadian canola farmer for growing the company’s genetically modified (GM) seeds without paying for them. But Mr. Schmeiser claimed that GM canola pollen blew over and contaminated his fields.
In 2002, Canadian courts said it didn’t matter how Monsanto’s GM plants got onto his fields; Schmeiser had to pay for them. So Monsanto won the case but looked like a big bad bully. Now Monsanto has agreed to an out-of-court settlement, surely something it should have done a long time ago.
This case reminds me of the infamous “McLibel” trial of the late 1990’s when McDonald’s sued a couple of young activists in London for saying rude things about the company. You would think the threat of a public relations nightmare would encourage companies to back off in such David-and-Goliath situations, but no such luck. I’m glad this one is over. Next?
Monsanto, the maker of recombinant bovine growth hormone (scientific name, recombinant bovine somatotropin or rBST; trade name, Posilac), is embarked on a national state-by-state campaign to get legislatures to rule that food products cannot be labeled that they are rBGH-free or rBST-free. In his weekend column, The Feed, Andrew Martin details how Monsanto has organized its very own “grass-roots” group, Afact, to campaign on the company’s behalf. As Martin puts it, “consumer demand for more natural products…has certainly interfered with Monsanto’s business plan for Posilac.” As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, Monsanto’s aggressive stance (in this and so many other issues that concern its products) has elicited much suspicion of its motives and of genetically modified foods in general. In 1994, Monsanto worked hard to convince the FDA that GM foods did not have to be labeled as such. Now, this company has only itself to blame for consumer resistance to its products.
The Ask Marion question this week has to do with whether there is anything good about food biotechnology. This is a good week to ask since the industry’s genes have been leaking again, this time into corn that is not genetically modified. Apparently, according to Food Chemical News (and I do love the way these things are described) “Dow AgroSciences had earlier informed the agencies that it had detected extremely low levels of an unregistered plant-incorporated protectant (PIP), known as Event 32, in some Herculex RW and Herculex XTRA Rootworm Protection seed lines. Seed containing the PIP was inadvertently sold to farmers by Dow’s affiliate, Mycogen Seeds, and planted in 2006 and 2007.” Translation: The Mycogen Co. sold seeds containing an unapproved gene to be planted with conventional corn. Oops, and not the first time.
Thanks to Maya Joseph for sending Ben & Jerry’s endearing cow cloning song. Its message: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. But wait! Isn’t Ben & Jerry’s owned by Unilever? Does this mean that Unilever–a huge multinational food corporation that sells nearly $60 billion annually–opposes animal cloning? Or is the company just leaving Ben & Jerry’s alone with its core customers?
About the previous posting on animal cloning, rj asks: What are the possibly negative consequences from consuming say cloned poultry? Does it have to do with abnormal gene expressions which may somehow impact the composition of said food item? This also makes me wonder about why genetically modified foods fire off alarms with some people…with respect to genetically modified foods [studies]…have concluded GM foods are safe…you could infer that GM foods are safe for humans too. What are your thoughts on this, Marion?”
Easy. Just because–or even if–a food is safe, it does not necessarily have to be acceptable. I am willing to grant that GM and cloned foods are probably safe, but so what? I devote the first chapter of my book, Safe Food, to a serious discussion of this question. To summarize: if you have concerns–moral, ethical, religious, social, or political–about the way food is produced, you might choose not to eat GM or cloned foods. But you don’t have a choice, because neither is labeled. I think they should be.
Yesterday’s New York Times carried an excellent article about the fuss in Europe over genetically modified (GM) corn. Europe has managed to stave off the introduction of GM crops but is under huge pressure to accept them from the World Trade Organization and the U.S. The argument: Because GM crops are safe for people and the environment (a scientific issue), trade rules must apply. But, as the article quotes Benedikt Haerlin of Save Our Seeds, “Science is being utterly abused by all sides for nonscientific purposes…It would be helpful if all sides could be frank about their social, political, and economic agendas.” This precise point is the theme of my book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (UC Press, 2004), which despite its title is about the politics of food safety and biotechnology. Its conclusion: even if GM foods are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable.