7-Misc: Monsanto saw secret EU documents
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GUARDIAN (UK) Feb. 21, 1999 - News Unlimited
Monsanto saw secret EU documents
US biotech firm under fire in Europe
By Gregory Palast and Terry Slavin Sunday February 21, 1999
Monsanto, the US biotech group fined in an English court last week for
failing to control genetic modification trials, is under attack on two new
fronts. First for obtaining an advance look at confidential European
Commission documents during its campaign to win regulatory approval for
controversial bovine growth hormone (BST). Second, because of its legal
actions against hundreds of North American farmers for failing to pay for
its genetically modified seeds.
Company faxes and Canadian government files obtained this week by The
Observer reveal that Monsanto received copies of the position papers of
EC Director General for Agriculture and Fisheries prior to a February 1998
meeting that approved milk from cows treated with BST.
Notes jotted down by a Canadian government researcher during a November
1997 phone call from Monsanto's regulatory chief indicate that the company
'received the [documents] package from Dr Nick Weber', a researcher with
the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He was given them as a member
the Joint Expert Committee on Food and Drug Additives (JECFA), part of the
World Health Organisation, which reviewed the Monsanto drug for Codex, the
agency that approves products as safe for international trade.
Sources noted that Weber's supervisor at the US FDA is Dr Margaret
who, before joining the agency, directed a Monsanto laboratory working on
the hormone. Monsanto also obtained an advance look at the submission to
JECFA by British pharmaceuticals researcher John Verrall. Verrall, a
of the UK Food Ethics Council, told The Observer that slipping papers to
Monsanto was 'totally wrong'.
BST boosts milk output in cows but, say critics, may increase the
likelihood of human cancers for those who drink milk. Advance knowledge of
objections to the hormone seems likely to have helped Monsanto to prepare
arguments in advance of the EU meeting.
In September at a meeting of a Codex panel in Washington, the UK's
opposition to immediate acceptance of the Monsanto hormone resulted in a
tie vote on the drug among 24 nations. The US representative, citing the
JECFA report, claimed a 'chairman's privilege' to treat the vote as
The Observer has also learned that Monsanto received documents from the
files of a Canadian senator involved in investigating controversies
surrounding BST. Senator Mira Spivak stated that documents used in
preparing hearings on BST were faxed from an office in the Canadian
Last month, Canada permanently banned BST after hearing testimony from
research scientists in its health ministry, who challenged the hormone's
safety. Monsanto, whose GM seeds will account for between 50 and 60 per
cent of the US soya bean harvest this year, is prosecuting or has already
settled 525 cases of what it calls seed piracy - farmers who fail to pay
licence fees to plant Monsanto's Ready Roundup seeds.
Settlements have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.
Monsanto has set up freephone tip lines across the US and Canada,
encouraging neighbours to anonymously blow the whistle on neighbours, and
has hired private investigators to follow up more than 1,800 of these
leads. The technology use agreement that farmers must sign when buying
Monsanto seed not only forbids them to save seed for replanting, it also
gives Monsanto the right to come onto their land and take plant samples
Hope Shand, research director for Rural Advancement Foundation
International, said: 'Wherever in the world Monsanto is selling this I'd
assume they will adopt the same draconian tactics.'
In one case in western Canada, Monsanto is prosecuting a farmer who
maintains he did not plant any genetically modified canola, but his crop
was contaminated by GM seeds or pollen blown onto his field from nearby
farms - the cross-pollination issue that so worries English Nature.
One farmer said: 'Everyone's looking at each other and asking, '''Did my
neighbour say something?'''
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax : #49-551-7701672
-| email: firstname.lastname@example.org