GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Opposition Grows to Genetically Engineered Soybeans




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October 14, 1996

Opposition Grows to Genetically Engineered Soybeans

On October 7, 1996, spokespersons representing more than 300 
consumer, health, trade and agricultural organizations from 
48 countries announced the launch of a world wide boycott of 
genetically engineered soy and corn produced in the U.S. 
Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant soybeans and Ciba-Geigy's Bt 
corn will be commercially harvested this season for the first 
time. Organizations participating in the campaign will urge 
consumers to boycott targeted products containing soy and 
corn including Green Giant Harvest Burgers, Nestle Crunch, 
Similac Infant Formula, McDonald's french fries, Kraft Salad 
Dressings, Fleischmann's Margarine, Fritos, Karo Corn Syrup, 
Quaker Oats Corn Meal and Coca Cola. Organizers of the 
boycott cite increasing scientific concern over environmental 
and health risks associated with genetically engineered 
soybeans and corn.

The Secretary General of EuroCommerce, a trade association 
representing over one third of the European Union's food 
wholesalers and retailers, stated last week that they will 
refuse to accept Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans from the 
U.S. unless they are labeled. He warned that several major 
members of EuroCommerce would not buy U.S. soybeans without 
assurances that they are not genetically engineered. 
Approximately 40% of the U.S. soy crop is exported to Europe 
annually. Only one to two per cent of this year's soy crop is 
genetically engineered; officials expect this amount to 
increase by a factor of ten by next year.

Earlier this year, the European Union moved to allow limited 
importation of genetically engineered soybeans. A majority of 
European ministers, however, recently refused to authorize 
import of Ciba-Geigy's Bt corn, citing concerns about 
possible health and environmental effects. In response, the 
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture sent the department's trade 
counselor to Brussels last week in an attempt to argue 
against restrictions on genetically engineered crops. The 
Secretary stated that European objections to Ciba-Geigy's 
corn were based on "unsound science," and that maize could 
become a trans-Atlantic trade issue. 

U.S. agribusiness representatives and grain distributors 
maintain that labeling is not necessary since key U.S. 
agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the 
U.S. Department of Agriculture have already approved the 
crops. They state that labeling would involve high costs 
since both soy and corn are normally shipped and stored in 
huge, interchangeable lots. Corn and soybeans, two of the 
most important U.S. field crops, were planted on 144 million 
acres this season. 

Some U.S. agricultural distributors have already made 
agreements with European buyers to provide unaltered 
soybeans. These distributors have stated that they will not 
accept any genetically engineered soybeans from U.S. farmers. 

In other events, Greenpeace activists blocked harvesting of a 
field of genetically engineered soybeans in Iowa on October 
10. More than 30 activists used a bright pink non-toxic, 
milk-based paint to spray an entire Monsanto soybean field 
and mark a 100 foot "X" with the words: "Biohazard! 
Monsanto." The message could be read from the air and a 
similar banner marked the area from the road.

Monsanto's herbicide tolerant soybeans contain a gene that 
makes the soybean plant resistant to glyphosate (brand name 
Roundup), Monsanto's top selling herbicide. Critics maintain 
that the potential exists for herbicide tolerant genes to be 
transmitted to weeds, thereby exacerbating weed control 
problems. In addition, they point out that glyphosate is a 
toxic chemical, (for example, it is the third most commonly 
reported cause of pesticide poisoning in farmworkers in 
California) and that herbicide tolerant plants merely 
perpetuate use of toxic pesticides. 

Ciba-Geigy's genetically engineered corn produces an 
insecticidal toxin derived from the naturally occurring soil 
bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. Bt is a valuable tool 
for organic farmers, and critics state that Bt crops such as 
corn will speed development of insect resistance and reduce 
its effectiveness.

Sources: Foundation on Economic Trends press release, October 
7, 1996; Greenpeace press release, October 10, 1996; 
International Herald Tribune, October 9, 1996; "EU, U.S. 
continue grain subsidy, biotech talks," Reuters, October 9, 
1996.

Contacts: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign, 860 Highway 61, 
Little Marais, MN 55614; phone (218) 226-4164; email 
purefood@aol.com.
Foundation on Economic Trends, 1600 L Street NW, Suite 216, 
Washington DC 20036; phone (202) 466-2833; fax (202) 429-
9602.
Terri Johnson, Greenpeace, Chicago; phone (312) 563-6060; 
http://www.greenpeace.org/~usa.

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