GENTECH archive


Observer reports on Monsanto -GM

                       Monsanto saw secret EU documents 
                  US biotech firm under fire in Europe

                     By Gregory Palast and Terry Slavin
Observer (London)                          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 its 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 the 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 of 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
        Mitchell 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 member 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 approval.
    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 senate.
   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
         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 for three years.
       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
   One farmer said: 'Everyone's looking at each other and asking, '''Did
                       my neighbour say something?'''

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