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7-Misc: Tide begins to turn in US against GM crops

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TITLE:  Tide begins to turn in US against GM crops
SOURCE: Farmers Weekly, UK
DATE:   July 2-8, 1999

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Tide begins to turn in US against GM crops

European resistance to GM crops, once scorned by the US farming
establishment, has now become a force to be reckoned with. Some
processors are even paying a premium for non-GM soyabeans,
explains Illinois-based agricultural commentator, Alan Guebert

THE global fight over acceptance of genetically modified
organisms (GMs) in food, to quote one loquacious commentator,
only gets weirder and weirder. Witness recent events on the
American biotech battlefront. In a face-to-face meeting with
Monsanto boss Robert Shapiro, US secretary of agriculture Dan
Glickman reportedly suggested that US agriculture would be better
served if Mr Shapiro stopped talking about biotech foods because
every time he opened his mouth US farmers lost millions more
bushels of ag exports.

Although Congress has no plans to give President Bill Clinton
fasttrack trade authority this year, multi-level trade talks
continue and are now aimed at getting a deal which would not
require congressional approval. This back door approach, says one
American critic is being pushed by biotech multinational
companies with the assistance of the US trade representative's
office and the US department of agriculture. The above-mentioned
strategy, however, was stung when European officials challenged
US negotiators' claim that American consumers have adopted
biotech food lock, stock and never-rotting tomato. "The Europeans
basically jammed that idea down the US negotiators' throats"
during April talks in Paris and Brussels, explains an American
witness. The Americans quickly confessed their exaggeration and
scampered home.

All this American and corporate bullying has left US farmers
squarely in the messy middle. They continue to adopt GM
technology rapidly - an estimated 40% of 1999 US maize acres and
30% of US soyabean acres will be planted with GM seeds - even as
foreign concerns over biotech foods now cut into American ag
exports and US farm prices. How did this happen? In the usual
way, say sources who have watched global food talks since the
mid-1990s. Big companies with billions invested in GM research
and business deals used governments to push the techno-agenda and
hinder go slow advocates. This strategy is explained in detail in
the May 1999 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French foreign
affairs journal. In a blistering attack on the current bilateral
trade talks between the EU and US, author Christian De Brie
documents how "capital" - big money corporations - are driving
the world trade and biotech debate.

"The war being prosecuted," writes Mr De Brie, "with the support
of their governments, by transnational corporations on both sides
of the Atlantic for the conquest and domination of world markets
is becoming increasingly brutal and has no regard for laws. "
"Talks conducted behind closed doors without democratic control
aim, for a hastily-signed final agreement (that hopes) to hand
over all human activities to capital, without let or hindrance,
thereby stripping the KU, member governments and local
authorities of their ability to pursue their own policies, be
they economic, social, cultural or environmental." And, Mr De
Brie notes, it's often done through easily agreed-upon, mostly
benign words or phrases like "transparency, deregulation,
liberalisation, openmg of markets, (and) good governance" which
are, in fact, "only matters for countries and their citizens,
never for large corporations."

But Niel Ritchie, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy in Minneapolis, says cracks are appearing in the big
company-big government alliance to push biotech food around the
globe. "When it comes to food and GMs, even the free trade hawks
in Europe are deeply divided," Mr Ritchie offers, "yet US
officials and the multinationals keep pounding them. The beef
hormone issue brought this difference to a head and the Europeans
decided they've had just about enough of the multinationals."

Thus the EU's anti-US blast last month in Paris and Brussels.
American farmers are getting the message, too. Giant ag
processors Archer Daniels Midland and AE Staley recently warned
US farmers they would not purchase US-grown biotech maize
varieties not yet approved by the European Union. And, as if to
drive home the point to rock-headed biotech boosters, in early
May ADM announced it would pay a $5.50 (3.40 pounds)/t premium to
farmers for non-GM soy- abeans. The news rocked US farm circles,
and many farmers scurried to return GM maize seed to distributors
prior to early spring planting. Some seed dealers estimate as
much as 20% of the GM maize seed was returned. This new - and
still small - attitude change recently got support from a most
unlikely source - the American business insurance industry. In
the May 6 issue of Post, an insurance magazine, an underwriting
manager for insurance giant Cigna International suggested
business insurers go slow on policies which cover GM-selling
companies. "Our experience with asbestos, PCBs and other
"miracle" products in the past should have warned us of the
potential dangers of diving into issues before we have an
adequate awareness of the exposures," wrote Cigna of ficial
Maurice Pullen. "Prudence is, after all," he notes, "meant to be
the underscoring principle of insurance underwriting."

This year of punishing low commodity prices, increased production
and drooping grain exports might bring American farmers to that
simple, unavoidable conclusion, also. Besides, as one American
farmer asked in late May, "Isn't the customer always right?" 

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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