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TITLE:  Consumers mop up in milk war
SOURCE: The Guardian, by George Monbiot
DATE:   July 22, 1999

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Consumers mop up in milk war

Slowly, very slowly, consumers are regaining control over the
food chain. The destruction of a farm-scale trial of genetically
engineered rape by protesters on Sunday could prove to be the
final straw for the biotechnology companies already wondering
whether their products have a future in this country. Just ten
miles from the trial site, Britain's newest farmers' market,
offering local, organic produce, opened for the first time a
fortnight ago, and sold out within two hours.

But something else has happened, far more significant than either
of these events. Three weeks ago, the European Union routed an
American attempt to force us to accept one of the most unpleasant
technologies food scientists have ever devised. Its victory, a
critically important blow for consumer rights, was greeted with a
deluge of absolutely no coverage at all.

Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a growth hormone, manufactured by
Monsanto. Injected into dairy cows, it raises their milk yields
by between ten and 15 per cent. According to European scientists,
it also increases udder infections, foot diseases and
reproductive disorders in the cows which receive it, and boosts
the level of insulin growth factor 1 in their milk. This chemical
passes intact into the human bloodstream and is associated with
both breast and prostate cancers. Five years ago, the European
Union banned the use of the hormone here, and forbade imports of
hormone-treated milk from the United States. The US insisted that
if the ban were not lifted by the end of this year, it would ask
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to force us to start drinking
its poisoned milk.

The United States had every expectation of success. It has
already used the WTO to impose punitive sanctions on the European
Union for refusing to compel us to eat hormone-treated beef, and
insisting that we should not have to buy all our bananas from the
company which funds the Democratic Party. America has found in
our own scab state an indispensable ally: the British government
has consistently sought to undermine the European position on
beef hormones, in order to prove to Mr Clinton that it places the
interests of US corporations ahead of the health of its own
citizens.

The milk dispute threatened to become far bigger than the beef
and banana wars. The United States has already demonstrated that
it will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Monsanto gets
what it wants.

In 1989, a researcher employed by the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) commissioned tests to discover whether or
not BST is safe. He was immediately sacked for "slowing down the
approval process", and the tests were stopped. When the FDA
discovered that Monsanto's own tests were grossly inadequate, it
established a new safety category, approving BST as a "manageable
risk.". Last year, the FDA admitted that it had allowed the sale
of the hormone without having seen any safety data. It had relied
instead on a summary provided by Monsanto.

Exposure of this kind of collusion has seldom prevented the
United States from forcibly exporting its revolting habits. The
World Trade Organisation has to decide whether a country or a
group of countries is excluding a product for genuine health and
safety reasons, or doing so merely in order to protect its own
manufacturers. It relies on the assessment of Codex Alimentarius,
the United Nations food standards agency. Codex is stuffed with
corporate scientists and US government officials. It has ruled in
favour of American corporations even when the evidence against
their products is overwhelming.

But three weeks ago, Codex did something almost unprecedented. It
made a decision on the basis of science, rather than politics.
Safety concerns about BST, it ruled, could not be ignored. The
United States was forced to drop its suit.

The decision not to poison the 370 million members of the
European Union, though ignored by every newspaper and broadcaster
in Britain, could prove to be one of the defining moments of the
end of the 20th Century. The credibility of the coercive trade
regime which has threatened the sovereignty of every democratic
state on earth has already been seriously challenged. Last year,
the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, a crude attempt to
enable big business to overthrow national legislation, was
defeated by campaigners. This week, the World Trade Organisation
failed to resolve the furious internal dispute over its next
director-general, and was forced to appoint both leading
candidates.

Europe's victory sets the tone for a new round of trade talks,
opening in Seattle in November. They promise to be so contentious
that they could break the World Trade Organisation apart. I hope
so. The WTO, established to protect weak nations from the strong,
has been reduced to an oppressive instrument of American foreign
policy. 



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-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
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