GENET archive


4-Patents: Schmeiser/Monsanto case shows extent of GM foods threat

genet-news mailing list

-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

        Schmeiser/Monsanto case shows extent of GM foods threat
SOURCE: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, by Judy Kennedy
DATE:   April 2002

------------------ archive: ------------------

Schmeiser/Monsanto case shows extent of GM foods threat

So why do the French hate McDonald's?

The answer involves France's lifestyles and culinary practices, agri-biz, 
and the feistiness of its family farmers. And its resistance to the forced 
homogenization that McDo stands for around the world.

For we are being homogenized, standardized, and squared like genetically 
modified tomatoes that taste like wood but have a shelf life of 10 years 
and come with their own built-in toxins to ward off bugs.

Genetically modified (GM) or engineered (GE) products are those whose genes 
have been altered, usually by the addition of genetic material from another 
species. The product may be developed to resist, for example, a specific 
herbicide or pesticide.

Widespread use of such seed and herbicide combinations increases the 
practice of monoculture and of the monopoly of food production through the 
control of the seed supply. Such practices are given a giant boost by 
patent rights which compliant governments have legislated.

Genetics Professor Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario 
believes that the GM seed industry is aiming at nothing short of total 
control--i.e., that certified seeds will be required for all plantings, and 
that these seeds will have to contain a herbicide-resistant gene.

Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser would agree with this prediction. The 
case of Monsanto vs Schmeiser is known worldwide. In March of last year, 
the Federal Court of Canada found that Schmeiser had infringed Monsanto's 
patent rights because some of its GM canola was growing on his land. That 
Schmeiser had neither planted it nor authorized its planting was deemed by 
the court to be "not significant."

The implications for farmers everywhere are awesome. Dr. Ralph Martin, 
Director of the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, says, "This throws 
the onus the wrong way--onto the farmer, not Monsanto."

Canola pollen can be carried over great distances by wind or insects, 
leading to outcrossing. Agriculturalists estimate that a buffer zone of at 
least 800 metres is needed to protect a field of non-GM hybrid canola from 
infestation by the GM variety. The GM variety was developed to resist the 
most widely used herbicide, Monsanto's Roundup.

These factors mean that most of Saskatchewan's canola fields may now be 
contaminated and that savers and developers of heritage and other canola 
strains, like Schmeiser, cannot plant their seed. The contaminating 
"volunteer" plants bear proprietary genes, as the court has indicated, and 
are tolerant to Roundup or other common herbicides.

Round One clearly goes to Monsanto.

In addition to the monopoly of a major food crop by one transnational 
corporation, a second public policy issue arises with GM products: that of 
food safety. Health Canada holds that genetically modified foods need not 
be tested nor labelled because they are identical in essential detail to 
the crop from which they originated, or "substantially equivalent."

Dr. Ann Clark, professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph, 
has long criticized Health Canada's assessment process in relation to food 
safety; some see it as a mere bookkeeping device. She charges the 
Department's Food Inspection Agency with having followed a seriously flawed 
protocol prior to its approval of some 50 GM foods--one that failed to 
consider their potential for genetic flow to wild relatives or to become 
weeds--and also failed to evaluate their impact on non-target organisms or 
on biodiversity.

Recently the Royal Society of Canada's Expert Panel on Genetic Modification 
recommended that more research be done on such novel food products, and 
over a longer time period; that a government body conduct this research; 
and that it be funded independently. Open records are essential to this 
process, they added.

These recommendations contrast with current government practice, which 
protects the confidentiality of research results as "business information." 
Retired Agriculture Canada crop scientist Dr. Bert Christie sees government 
in a conflict of interest position in its dual role of promoter and 
regulator of biotechnology. He confirms that the CFIA conducts no tests on 
its own and does not submit the industry's findings to peer review.

What can be so dangerous about GM food crops? Some scientists see more 
danger in multiple sprayings of crops with herbicides and pesticides than 
with genetic modification. Dr. Gefu Wang-Pruski, Research Professor, Plant 
Molecular Biology, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, points to some non-GM 
apples which, "even if peeled, have 25% more (chemicals) than what is 
allowed--inside the apple." GM crops, she claims, have been tested now for 
over 10 years, and have shown no allergenic reaction.

The Internet, however, provides lots of counter-arguments. Dr. Joe 
Cummins's concerns run like this: "Probably the greatest threat from 
genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus and insect 
virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic 
recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such 
constructions. Certainly the widely used cauliflower mosaic virus is a 
potentially dangerous gene. It is a pararetrovirus, meaning that it 
multiplies by making DNA from RNA messages. It is very similar to the 
Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Modified viruses could cause famine 
by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases of tremendous power."

Dr. Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Genetics at Guy's 
Hospital, London, warns: "This procedure results in disruption of the 
genetic blueprint of the organism, with totally unpredictable consequences. 
The unexpected production of toxic substances has now been observed in 
genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals, with the 
problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen. 
Moreover, genetically engineered food or enzymatic food processing agents 
may produce an immediate effect or it could take years for full toxicity to 
come to light."

Other concerns have been raised by Agnes Sinai of Paris's Ecole des hautes 
etudes en sciences sociales: "Consumers would ingest much (sic) more 
pesticides if genetically modified plants were to spread because they 
contain so much of them. Like dioxins, pesticides, including glyphosphate, 
are not broken down in the human body; they are a form of invisible 
pollution. Their molecules have allergenic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic, 
mutagenic, and hormonal effects, and are harmful to male fertility. They 
have similar properties to female hormones, oestrogens; overall, these 
hormonal effects could be responsible for a 50% decline in sperm counts 
over the last 50 years. If that decline were to continue, the human race 
would have to resort to cloning by about 2060."

Scary stuff. But the list of GM food crops includes more than canola. Most 
of the corn and soy products we eat may now be of the genetically modified 
varieties and therefore most of the processed foods that appear on 
supermarket shelves. No wonder consumers clamor for the labelling of GM 
foods as a minimum response to the apparent risk this presents.

The precautionary principle--which Canada accepted in signing the Biosafety 
Protocol in Montreal in 2000--requires nothing less. Yet last October, then 
Health Minister Alan Rock and his cabinet colleagues scuttled a bill 
presented by Liberal MP Charles Caccia, a bill that would have made the 
labelling of GM foods mandatory and which had the support of 93% of 

Round Two to Monsanto.

Consumers in Europe are rallying, demanding the labelling of GM foods, and 
even their withdrawal from the market. Governments are moving to ban the 
cultivation of GM crops. Boycotts of corn, soy and canola from the United 
States and Canada are being organized by retailers, as well as by consumers 

Organic foods are much sought after. One California food chain, Trader 
Joe's, recently announced that it would work with its private label vendors 
to have GM-free products reformulated if necessary and certified within a 
year. Now there's competitve advantage!

Canadian farmers have taken notice and have instructed the board of 
directors of the country's largest grain company, Agricore United, to work 
towards segregating GM and non-GM varieties of grain and oil seeds and 
urging government not to licence varieties of GM wheat. Their market-share 
is at stake.

For Canadian consumers, it is not too late to get off the shelf, join with 
our European and American counterparts, and win Round Three.

We should push hard for effective regulation of GM crops and products; for 
extensive and long-term research on their effects by independent 
researchers; and for a ban on their presence in the food market until they 
have been proven safe.

In the meantime, Percy Schmeiser has appealed the Federal Court's ruling, 
and the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate has launched a class action suit 
against Monsanto on behalf of those farmers who have had their fields 
contaminated by GM seeds without their authorization.

Stay tuned.

(Judy a retired lawyer and environmental 
activist living in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. She is a member of CCPA-
Nova Scotia and Sierra Atlantic. For more information, see -www.natural-

Taken from The CCPA Monitor, April 2002 Canadian Centre for Policy 


|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
|                                             |
|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
|               Kleine Wiese 6                |
|           D - 38116 Braunschweig            |
|                 Germany                     |
|                                             |
| phone: +49-531-5168746                      |
| fax:   +49-531-5168747                      |
| email:                    |