SnowBall archive


GE - news 14th March

Sunday INDEPENDENT March 14
Secret deal will ban GM crops until 2002
By Marie Woolf, Political 
Genetically modified crops are to be banned for three years under a 
landmark deal being secretly negotiated between the Government and 
biotechnology companies. After weeks of confidential talks, ministers are 
poised to announce a breakthrough. Seed companies will agree to a 
voluntary freeze on growing GM crops in Britain until at least the year 
The deal, expected to be announced within the next three weeks, will mark 
a victory for campaigners, including the Independent on Sunday, who have 
called on the Government to delay planting GM crops in Britain until there 
have been more tests on their environmental effects. The new freeze will 
allow scientists to examine the effect of growing GM crops on other 
plants, birds and animals.
Government sources say that Prime Minister Tony Blair, who believes in the 
benefits of GM crops and has backed them publicly, is in favour of a 
freeze if it is agreed voluntarily by the agro-chemical companies. "This 
is a matter for the industry," said an aide to the Prime Minister.
Agriculture and environment ministers have also backed the negotiations 
between senior civil servants and companies such as Novartis, Zeneca and 
Monsanto. Ministers have been kept closely informed of progress in the 
talks, which began six weeks ago.
The Government, worried by the backlash against GM food demonstrated in an 
NOP opinion poll in the Independent on Sunday showing widespread consumer 
concern, is keen to be seen to be taking action on the issue but believes 
that the biotechnology industry must take the decision itself.
It has ruled out banning the commercial planting of GM crops for fear of 
provoking a further trade row with the US, which has considerable 
commercial interests in the new technology.
Last year, ministers negotiated a one-year moratorium on planting GM crops 
commercially in the UK, but this will run out in 2000. Government sources 
close to the negotiations said that biotechnology companies such as 
Novartis, which has backed consumer calls for clearer labelling of GM food 
sold in UK shops, have been "helpful".
But Monsanto, the American agro-chemical giant most closely associated 
with genetic engineering, is said by government sources to be "dragging 
its feet".
The industry body representing biotechnology companies and plant breeders 
believes that "any delay on the commercial production of GM crops in the 
UK would be unscientific and unjustified". A possible shortage of GM seed 
may be one of the reasons the agro-chemical companies will agree to the 
extended moratorium.
English Nature, the Government's official adviser on wildlife, has called 
for a freeze on commercially growing GM Crops for three years until more 
data is available.

Sunday INDEPENDENT March 14

Stop GM Food - Stray seeds land farmer in court
By Marie Woolf in Bruno, Saskatchewan
Farmers who find that stray genetically modified seeds have blown on to 
their land from neighbours' fields and then taken root could face massive 
fines if the agrochemical giant Monsanto wins a test case in a Canadian 
Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, is being pursued by 
Monsanto for damages and the profits from his fields because the company 
claims that the patent on its genetically modified (GM) seeds has been 
violated. GM canola (rape) plants from Monsanto seeds were found growing 
among his crops. The farmer believes that the seeds blew on to his land.
If Monsanto wins the test case, due to go to court this autumn, British 
farmers in similar situations could also face court cases culminating in 
having to pay thousands of pounds in compensation.
But Mr Schmeiser never signed a contract to grow Monsanto's GM canola and 
says he is not liable to the big fines the company imposes for using seed 
from crops. His fields run along a main road which links a grain silo and 
a rubbish dump where used seed sacks are thrown away. The prairies can be 
windy and cut crops are often blown on to neighbouring fields.
Mr Schmeiser, who has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees and who 
will have to pay a massive bill if he loses, has a library of photographs 
showing stray seeds and plants from neighbouring farmers.
In Canada and the US, Monsanto has hired Robinson Investigations, a 
private firm founded by former police officers, to question farmers and 
take samples from their land.
Farmers complain of "intimidation" and "bullying", and fear they could 
lose their farms. Monsanto, to give farmers a chance to inform on their 
neighbours, has also set up a toll-free "snitch line" on which people can 
tell Monsanto that growers are using their technology without paying for 
But many growers claim that the line is being used to settle old scores. 
Mr Schmeiser has been contacted by dozens of farmers throughout North 
America who feel they are being "intimidated".
One of the other farmers facing massive fines for violating Monsanto's 
patent on its "technology" is Edward Zielinski, a 63-year-old who farms 
1,600 acres in Danora, Saskatchewan. He is facing a claim of $29,000 
(#12,000) for growing Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola without a licence.
Mr Zielinski, who has also had private detectives hired by Monsanto turn 
up on his farm, is adamant that he did not know that some canola seed he 
traded with another farmer for wheat was engineered by Monsanto. Documents 
seen by The Independent on Sunday also show that Monsanto wants Mr 
Zielinski to allow employees to walk on to his land to take samples for 
three years and to sign a gagging clause about the "terms and conditions" 
of the settlement agreement. But the agreement also gives Monsanto "the 
right to disclose the facts and settlement terms associated with the 
Investigation and this Settlement Agreement".
The Canadian High Commission in London said that Canada's politicians were 
monitoring the case closely and were aware of concerns by farmers.
UK environmental groups fear that Monsanto may try to import its American 
policies, including the use of private detectives and tip-off lines, to 
Britain. "Monsanto's thuggish tactics are now becoming apparent everywhere 
from Canada to the US and New Zealand," said Charles Secrett, director of 
Friends of the Earth.
A spokesman for Monsanto Canada defended the pursuit of farmers, the 
tip-off line and the investigations as a "deterrent". He said the private 
investigators were instructed to be polite and behave in a civil manner.
"In Canada last year we audited 230 growers. Ninety per cent of growers 
who we audited felt it was in a professional manner," said Craig Evans, 
general manager of Biotechnology and Seed, Monsanto Canada. "I don't want 
to say that there isn't the odd guy who gets over-zealous, but our intent 
is not to intimidate or bully people. Our intent is not to take people to 
court. What we are trying to do is create a deterrent so that people 
understand that we are serious."

Sunday INDEPENDENT March 14
Stop GM Foods - Scientists find banned soya in UK products
Government controls fail to stop illegal beans entering the food chain, 
writes Rachel Sylvester
UNLICENSED genetically modified crops are entering the food chain in 
Britain because the Government is unable to control the import of 
Traces of genetically modified soya beans which have not been licensed as 
safe for human consumption in Europe have been identified in products on 
sale in this country.
The Ministry for Agriculture Fisheries and Food is investigating a 
complaint by trading standards officers that the beans have passed into 
the food chain through the back door.
Government officials have also been involved in meetings with their 
European counterparts to try to devise a strategy for monitoring imports. 
"There are concerns that this might happen and it is being dealt with 
community wide," said a spokesman for the Department for Environment, 
Transport and the Regions.
The latest furore over genetically modified food follows a survey by 
Worcestershire trading standards officers. Tests by their scientists found 
that GM soya had been used in 60 out of 200 samples but only one of the 
products was properly labelled.
More worryingly, however, the tests also identified a type of genetically 
modified bean which is not licensed for sale in Europe. Only one soya - 
produced by the biotechnology giant Monsanto - has been granted a licence 
in Europe but the bean contained in the sample was not this strain. 
Scientists believe it was probably another type of GM soya which is legal 
in the United States but banned in Britain.
Clive Graham, one of the trading standards officers involved in the 
investigation, said he had been "very concerned" to discover the 
unlicensed soya. "This is an illegal ingredient and we are now 
investigating to try to trace the source," he said. "Maff has also been 
Carol Stevens, of Worcestershire Scientific Services, confirmed that the 
department's screening had discovered a "rogue element" in the samples. 
"The soya was genetically modified but it did not follow the same pattern 
as licensed GM soya," she said.
Pete Riley, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said the development was 
"extremely worrying." He said: "If this is true, the Government is rapidly 
losing control. Food which has not passed through UK safety tests is 
already in the food chain."
The only soya bean licensed for sale in Europe is Monsanto's Round Up 
Ready Soya, which was approved in 1996. The other soya has been developed 
in the US by AgrEvo, designed to be resistant to a particular weedkiller, 
but it is still unlicensed in the UK. 

UK govt reportedly in secret deal to ban GM crops until 2002
March 15, 1999

LONDON, AFX via NewsEdge Corporation : Genetically modified crops are to be 
banned for three 
years under a deal being secretly negotiated between the government and 
companies, the Independent on Sunday reported, citing government sources.
The report said agriculture and other ministers have backed the 
negotiations between senior civil 
servants and companies such as Novartis AG, Zeneca Group PLC and Monsanto Co.
Under the deal, expected to be announced within the next three weeks, seed 
companies will agree 
to a voluntary freeze on growing GM crops in the UK until at least 2002, 
the report said.
The voluntary freeze will allow scientists to examine the effect of growing 
GM crops on other plants 
and animals. ak/
[Copyright 1999, Agence France Press/Financial Times]

AGRICULTURE: Death To Monsanto, Say World Scientists

By Ranjit Dev Raj NEW DELHI, Mar 11 (IPS) - Conscientious genetic engineers
and activists from across the world Thursday called for a slow but sure
death for Monsanto, the U.S seed giant they say threatens life on earth
with its genetically modified crops.

''It must be death by a thousand cuts,'' said Tony Clarke, director of the
Polaris Institute in Canada which assists social movements to develop
tools, skills and strategies for fighting economic globalisation and
corporate power.

Clarke was among participants selected to devise future strategies against
'Genetic Engineering and Patents on Life' at the close of the two-day
'Biodevastation II' meet here.

Monsanto figured high on the agenda because of stiff resistance put up in
this country by farmers and activists to field trials in 40 widely separate
locations of genetically engineered Bt cotton carried out by the
corporation on doubtful authorisation.

Said Pushpa Bhargava, a distinguished India biotechnologist who has the
French Legion d'Honneur to his credit, ''clearance for the trials should
have come from Indian Council of Agricultural research (ICAR) - instead
clearance came from the Department of Biotechnology and after the trials
had begun.''

Under pressure from Monsanto, India has also been forced to freely import
genetically modified crops such as soyabeans and foist it on an
unsuspecting consuming public without proper labelling.

''The only way to tackle Monsanto which has 300 million dollars to play
around with and regularly buys out scientists and policy makers is to
slowly bleed it by burning crops, sueing it in court and occupying its
offices,'' Clarke advised.

Endorsing the strategy, Claude Alvarez, an Indian activist said ''Gandhi
taught us to break to break immoral laws and explain later in court.''

Alvarez said the best place to begin the fight against biotechnology giants
was in India itself where Gandhi perfected civil disobedience and where
patents are routinely ignored. ''We should teach Monsanto a lesson right
here,'' he said.

The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment which
hosted Biodevastation II has filed a writ petition in the Indian Supreme
Court against the government for allowing Monsanto to carry out trials

In response, participants from Malaysia, Japan, Bangladesh, U.K, Germany,
Austria, Norway, France, U.S, Sri Lanka and Belgium pledged support for the
local efforts to stop Bt Cotton trials and the 'Monsanto, Quit India'

Farhad Mazhar, from the 'UBINIG' group in Bangladesh reminded participants
that South Asia had one of the last remnants of traditional farming carried
out by small farmers whose knowledge and seeds can ''recreate sustainable
agriculture from the ashes that will be left behind by multinationals.''

Mika Iba, leader of the Seikotsu Club, a 300,000-member consumer
cooperative from Japan said her organisation would now work to help farmers
in southern Andhra Pradesh who were ruined through adoption of Monsanto's

Immediately before the meet began Wednesday, Iba and 17 other members of
the Seikotsu club toured the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh where
several hundred farmers committed suicide last year after their crops

''We saw huge differences between farmers in Japan and India but we also
felt that farmers were everywhere an exploited lot - though at different
levels,'' said Mitsuko Tachikama, woman farmer.

During the scientific deliberations, like Prof Terje Travik from Norway
stressed that the first generation of genetically engineered organisms were
unsafe because the science and technology involved were completely unknown.

''We have to take an ecological view because of the proven possibilities of
horizontal gene transfer,'' Prof Travik who teaches virology at the
University of Tromso said.

He was joined by Mae Wan Ho, professor of biology of the Open University in
the United Kingdom in demanding a five-year moratorium on commercialisation
so that more research can be done and safety systems put in place.

''Corporations are manipulating science and promoting scientific fraud to
silence and censor the safety debate which they see as an interference in
their profits,'' said Prof Ho who heads bio-electrodynamics at her

Scientists talked of how their colleagues were victimised for speaking out
loud against corporations like Monsanto or given lucrative assignments if
they unethically supported genetic engineering projects.

They noted that, Linda Bullard of the 'IFOAM' foundation in Belgium was
denied an Indian visa to attend Biodevastation II apparently after she said
she would be attending a 'strategy session' against biotechnology
corporations in New Delhi.

''We stand on the edge of a Biotech century where a runaway technology
wielded by Monsanto and other transnationals threaten food security and
biodiversity in both the North and South,'' said Ronnie Cummins, director
of the U.S-based Campaign for Food Safety.

Cummins said it was important to ensure that the next millennium was not a
'Multinationals Millennium' as dictated by the Geneva-based, World Trade
Organisation (WTO) but one with a citizens' agenda.

''While the WTO is supposed to dismantle protectionism, it is actually
promoting corporate protectionism,'' said Vandana Shiva of the Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment.

Shiva said she was glad that India and the EU were now in the same boat
being threatened by Super 301 a U.S domestic trade law imposed through WTO.
India has reserved the right to sit in on hearings of a case challenging
Super 301.

The conference also expressed support for the initiative of countries like
the Netherlands, Italy and Norway which have challenged the European
Patents on Life Law.

Of particular concern was the move by the United States, Canada, Argentina,
Chile, Uruguay and Australia to block a global treaty to regulate trade in
genetically modified products at the Biosafety Protocol Talks at Cartagena,
Colombia in February.

Said Beth Burrows, director of the Edmonds Institute in Washington, ''There
cannot be a better example of injustice when six nations impose their will
on the rest of the world.''

The issue widened a growing rift between the EU and U.S over agricultural
products. The European nations have resisted genetically modified crops
while the U.S and its allies felt that an agreement could threaten food

Burrows said what is even more significant than the refusal by the EU to go
along with U.S transnationals is resistance from countries in the South,
more particularly from intellectually resourceful countries like India.

''Increasingly it is the South which is teaching countries like the U.S
lessons in ethics and morality and in sustainable development,'' Burrows
said. (END/IPS/rdr/an/99)

Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Ave. South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404  USA
612-870-3400 (phone) 612-870-4846 (fax)     <>

GM peas are safe, sacked scientist says
Arpad Pusztai, the scientist whose claims that genetically modified 
potatoes damaged laboratory rats prompted a huge political and scientific 
controversy, has concluded that GM peas are quite harmless.
By STEVE CONNOR Science Editor
In new research submitted to a scientific journal, Dr Pusztai found there 
was "no detrimental effect" on the health of rats fed on peas that had 
been genetically modified in a similar way to the potatoes.
The new findings cast doubt on the suggestion - made by Dr Pusztai and his 
supporters - that the rats in the potato experiment suffered as a result 
of eating GM food. The results support the view that the rats' ill health 
was due to eating raw potatoes, which are well known to be nutritionally 
Dr Pusztai was suspended and forced into retirement from the Rowett 
Research Institute in Aberdeen last August after a television interview, 
in which he claimed that rats fed GM potatoes had stunted internal organs 
and defective immune systems. But his latest research paper, submitted to 
the Journal of Nutrition in the US, observes that GM peas which contained 
an insecticidal agent derived from a bean plant had no discernible effect 
on laboratory animals. They also proved to be just as nutritious as 
ordinary peas.
Dr Pusztai did not mention the research when he appeared before the 
Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons last Monday, when 
he told MPs that he had no regrets over the statements he made to the 
media about the dangers of GM food. He was also asked why he had suggested 
that the public were being used as guinea pigs to test the safety of GM 
food. He replied that it was because there had been so little research 
proving it was safe.
The Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific institution, has 
launched an investigation into Dr Pusztai's work. The six leading 
specialists appointed as independent arbiters will report their 
conclusions next month.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Science minister, has ordered a review of 
the way the Government handles issues of public concern such as genetic 
engineering and cloning, it was announced yesterday.
There will be consultation and research into public knowledge and 
attitudes about science which could be used to inform policy-making.


French retailers agree to sell only from sustainable farming

By Sue Landau
PARIS - Two major French retailers have agreed to sell food from 
so-called "sustainable" farming, becoming the first big outlets for 
such products in France, the French sustainable farming association 
FARRE said.
"Sustainable" farming exists in seven European countries and offers 
farmers and consumers a middle way between cheap, intensively-farmed 
produce and expensive organic products.
Such produce makes an entry into French supermarkets following rising 
consumer concern over how food is produced.
A survey published at the prestigious annual French Farm Show this 
week showed that consumers did not rate hypermarkets and supermarkets 
as very likely to inform them on food quality.
The survey, by polling institute Sofres for plant protection group 
UIPP, found the big retailers came fifth as a reliable source of 
information. Consumer associations came top.
Also at the Farm Show, family-owned hypermarket group Auchan on 
Wednesday announed the arrival of food from sustainable agriculture on 
its shelves, and said the move was central to its fresh food retailing 
"We estimate that 80 percent of our fruit and vegetable sales and 25 
percent of our overall fresh food turnover will come from products 
from sustainable agriculture in five year's time," Auchan managing 
director Francis Cordelette said.
Organic food currently accounts for around one percent of the 
retailer's turnover, and it estimates this will rise to five percent 
over the next five years, he added.
FARRE director Jean-Marie Mutschler told Reuters on Thursday that 
hypermarket and supermarket chain Casino had just signed a partnership 
deal to stock sustainably-farmed food. No one was immediately 
available at Casino to comment.
Unlike organic farming, so-called sustainable farming allows the use 
of chemical pesticides or fertilisers, but undertakes to use these 
only in the quantities truly required by the crop and in response to a 
particular problem, but not systematically as happens in intensive 
farming, FARRE chairman Alain Forni said.
Farm animals are reared with a balanced diet and housed in buildings 
adapted to their needs, FARRE's documentation says.
Sustainable farmers must also safeguard natural resources, such as 
limiting water used for irrigation to just cater for the needs of a 
crop, and timing watering to be efficient, it says.
But there is as yet no officially-ratified code to define sustainable 
farming, which means there are no figures available for production or 
sales, FARRE's Mutschler said.
In Britain the main retailers have sought out fresh foods farmed using 
sustainable methods for the last two years.
(C) Reuters Limited 1999.
Japanese Choke on American Biofood
Sunday, March 14, 1999 
Japanese Choke on American Biofood 
Genetically altered produce reaps opposition. But moves 
to label it threaten $11 billion in U.S. sales. 
By SONNI EFRON, LA Times Staff Writer 
TOKYO--The video whirs, and an American 
food exporter's nightmare rolls across the 
screen. A potato bug is shown munching on the 
deep green leaf of a potato plant--genetically 
engineered in the United States, the narrator says, to 
produce a toxin that kills Colorado potato bug 
larvae. The bug falls off the leaf, flailing its legs in 
the air in what looks like insect agony. 
"They say this is safe, but I don't want to eat it. 
Do you?" asked the filmmaker, Junichi Kowaka, in 
an interview. 
Surveys show that most Japanese do not. In this 
land where food is considered most delicious when 
eaten raw or as close to its natural state as 
possible, genetically manipulated food is seen as 
synthetic, unwholesome and definitely 
To blunt a nascent consumer rebellion, the 
Japanese government has proposed labeling 
bioengineered food to give consumers the freedom 
to reject it. That in turn has alarmed the United 
States, which fears that the move could threaten its 
$11-billion annual sales--including about $1.3 
billion from California--to Japan, the No. 1 market 
for U.S. agricultural exports. 
Japan is not the only nation gagging at the idea 
of genetically altered fare. A truly global food fight 
is underway. The outcome of the regulatory, 
marketing and public perception battle that has 
been joined in Japan could have far-reaching 
effects on what U.S. farmers plant next year, on the 
skyrocketing U.S.-Japan trade imbalance and on the 
struggle between biofood promoters and foes for 
the hearts and palates of consumers around the 
At issue in the emotional political debate that 
has erupted worldwide is how much to regulate and 
whether and how to label genetically modified 
organisms, known in biospeak as GMOs. These 
organisms are created when new genes--sometimes 
from another species--are introduced into a plant or 
animal to produce "desirable" traits, such as 
resistance to cold, pests, disease, spoilage or even 
a particular brand of herbicide. 
While U.S. farmers are quickly increasing the 
acreage planted with GMO seeds--to 40% or more 
of some crops--there is growing opposition in 
Europe, Japan and in some Third World countries 
on environmental, health, philosophical or religious 
grounds. The European Union has slapped 
restrictions on genetically modified plants and 
passed a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled. 
Well-organized environmental groups are 
crusading against what they have branded 
"Frankenstein food," fanning doubts about the 
products from Iceland to New Zealand. Anti-GMO 
protests have been staged in the Philippines, India 
and Hungary, according to activists, who are 
flooding the Internet with virulent attacks on 
biofoods. In London, where foes dumped bags of 
bioengineered soybeans onto Downing Street in 
protest last month, a poll by the Independent 
newspaper found that 68% of Britons were 
"worried" about eating GMO food. Only 27% said 
they were happy to eat it. 
Not all countries are hostile to foods altered by 
gene-splicing: GMO seeds reportedly have 
received a warm welcome in Russia, China and 
Argentina. And plenty of consumers have nothing 
against GMO foods so long as they know what is 
on the menu. A 1994 poll in Australia, for example, 
found that 61% were happy to try GMO foods, but 
89% wanted them labeled. Australia and New 
Zealand are now trying to set up a common labeling 
system. New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley 
said earlier this month that consumers have a right 
to know whether their food contains GMOs. 
Nevertheless, a heated battle broke out last 
month at a U.N.-sponsored conference in 
Cartagena, Colombia, where delegates from more 
than 130 countries failed to agree on an 
international treaty to govern biosafety and trade in 
The U.S. government warned that the 
restrictions being debated in Cartagena would 
paralyze international trade. According to media 
reports and conference participants, the United 
States and five other agricultural exporters that 
opposed labeling GMOs were bitterly accused by 
the other nations of torpedoing a global 
environmental pact to safeguard the interests of 
their farmers and biotech firms. 
The debate is by no means limited to food. 
Genetically modified material is being used in a 
wide range of products, from textiles to 
Food Draws the Most Emotional Response 
Yet it is food that seems to generate the most 
emotional response. 
Consumer advocates say that people must have 
the right to know--and thus reject--food that has 
been subjected to genetic "tampering." 
Biotech backers say that requiring such labels is 
tantamount to branding demonstrably safe food as 
inedible and would raise food prices for all 
Proponents of bioengineering also say 
"genetically enhanced" species are essential to 
generate the crop yields needed to nourish the 
world's exploding population and to reduce use of 
herbicides and pesticides. They say the foods have 
been exhaustively tested and demonstrated to be 
safe enough to pass muster with the U.S. Food and 
Drug Administration and the Environmental 
Protection Agency, as well as international 
Foes assert that long-term studies on the effects 
of eating GMO foods have been inadequate. They 
question the environmental risks of developing 
pest-resistant or chemical-resistant crops, and they 
fear that bionic organisms could crowd out native 
A subtext in many countries is suspicion of 
scientific "miracles," new technologies and 
imperfect regulators, and the perception that the 
U.S. biotech industry has been heavy-handed in 
trying to shove new foods down frightened 
consumers' throats, said Beth Burrows, president of 
the nonprofit Edmonds Institute in Edmonds, Wash., 
who attended the Cartagena conference. 
Europeans have been sensitized to food-safety 
issues by the outbreak of "mad cow" disease. In 
Japan, the credibility of the Ministry of Health and 
Welfare was severely damaged by the 1996 
revelation that its bureaucrats had knowingly 
allowed the sale of HIV-tainted blood products--a 
scandal that broke the same year that the ministry 
approved the first of 22 GMO crops for human 
consumption here. 
Availability of GMO foods in Japan has not led 
to acceptance. More than 80% of those questioned 
in a 1997 government survey said they have 
"reservations" about such foods, and 92.5% 
favored mandatory labeling. 
Unease is beginning to translate into action. The 
city of Fujisawa, near Tokyo, has banned all GMO 
foodstuffs from its school lunches. A tofu maker has 
begun advertising its product as 
"recombinant-DNA-soybean free." And a number 
of powerful food-buying co-ops--which claim 
nearly 20 million members, or about 1 in every 6 
Japanese--are trying to screen out or label GMO 
"It seems Americans only care about the quantity 
of their food, but Japanese are concerned about the 
quality," filmmaker Kowaka said. "Nobody wants 
to eat this stuff." 
Kowaka is a food-safety activist with the Japan 
Descendants Fund, a nonprofit group that has 
succeeded in provoking widespread concern among 
Japanese consumers about chemical-emitting 
plastics in food packaging and the use of 
post-harvest chemicals on food. Last year, a 
number of ramen makers changed their packaging 
after Kowaka's group reported that chemicals 
suspected of disrupting the human endocrine system 
leached from the plastic bowls when boiling water 
was poured over the dried noodles. 
Kowaka's current video, titled "The Dangers of 
Recombinant-DNA Food," has sold about 1,000 
copies at $130 each and is being shown at lectures 
and gatherings by consumer, environmental and 
religious groups, he said. 
The Japanese government is countering 
anti-GMO groups like Kowaka's with a campaign 
to convince a skeptical Japanese public that 
genetically altered foods are not only safe but 
In fact, despite its draft proposal for a GMO 
labeling law, the Japanese government has been 
actively promoting biotechnology as a vital 
technology for the coming century and is investing 
billions to try to turn Japan into a world-class 
competitor. It is even attempting to genetically 
engineer strains of rice that will be tastier and 
hardier than conventional varieties. 
The politics of genetically engineered food here 
have been complicated by the fact that all the GMO 
foods offered for sale so far have been imported. 
Japanese companies have not dared introduce 
gene-spliced foods of their own, and although 
farmers can legally plant GMO seeds, so far none 
has chosen to do so, said Kazuhiko Kawamura, 
who deals with the labeling issue at the Ministry of 
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. 
Foreign food producers complain that Japan's 
powerful agricultural interests are trying to scare 
off consumers from GMO foods as part of a 
campaign to boost domestic agriculture. 
"Over the last 30 years, there has been a 
concerted effort here in Japan to paint imported 
foods as being dangerous, as being less desirable," 
said Dennis Kitch, Japan director of the U.S. 
Grains Council. 
The effort has included everything from 
asserting to Japanese that their intestines are ill 
designed for digesting Western beef to convincing 
them that foreign produce is more chemical-laden 
than home-grown fare. Though false, U.S. officials 
and industry sources say, such claims have 
succeeded in instilling alimentary xenophobia. 
Kowaka's video is no exception. As the narrator 
warns that "we Japanese are being used as guinea 
pigs" for inadequately tested GMO foods, the 
camera shows unwitting children eating French 
fries--by suggestion, those made from genetically 
altered plants that kill potato bugs--at that 
archetypal American eatery, McDonald's. 
"They think all imported food is bad. That gets 
to be protectionist," said a U.S. government official 
who argues that GMO labeling should not be used 
to reinforce unfounded consumer fears. 
U.S. Wants Japan to Accept Standards 
The United States has decided to require labels 
on genetically altered foods that are nutritionally 
different from traditional fare, that might contain 
allergens or that pose religious problems--such as a 
plant containing a pig gene--if and when any are 
introduced. Yet it doesn't require labeling of foods 
whose chemistry is essentially unchanged, solely 
on the basis of genetic origin. GMO foes in the 
United States have filed suit in an attempt to 
reverse that decision, but meanwhile, the U.S. 
government is lobbying Japan to accept its 
"We're asking them not to have a labeling 
requirement that stokes the fear that these foods are 
bad without any basis in fact," said a U.S. official, 
adding that there is no evidence these foods are 
Kowaka insisted, however, that a potato with an 
inborn insecticide is no ordinary spud, and should 
bear a warning label if it cannot be banned 
The Japanese committee studying labeling for 
the Agriculture Ministry has not yet ruled on the 
issue or decided what any label would say. The 
influential American Chamber of Commerce in 
Japan warns that GMO labeling "will create new 
nontariff trade barriers to imports." And while U.S. 
officials are trying to keep their criticisms 
scientific and low-key, they also have hinted to 
Japan that they may protest any mandatory labeling 
requirement to the World Trade Organization--as 
they have done over the European Union law. 
Japanese consumer advocates are outraged by 
the American stance. 
Setsuko Yasuda, who runs the "No! GMO" 
campaign for the Consumers Union of Japan, said 
Americans should not meddle with Japan's right to 
regulate food safety and quality. 
If Americans truly believe in free trade and 
consumer choice, she said, they should label GMO 
food for what it is and let international customers 
make up their own minds. 
"But to try to hide information [about product 
origin] and force-feed people what they don't want 
to eat . . . is wrong," Yasuda said. "It is American 
arrogance, and it will provoke anti-American 
sentiment here. You will lose hearts around the 
For Japan and the United States, the stakes in the 
GMO battle are high. Japan absorbs nearly 20% of 
all U.S. food exports. With the American farm 
economy ravaged by the Asian economic crisis, the 
affluent Japanese market is one that farmers and 
food processors can ill afford to lose, grain 
lobbyist Kitch said. Japan's decision on labeling 
will be vital, and not just because of the size of its 
market; Tokyo's decisions tend to influence 
regulators in other Asian capitals. 
For Japanese, who must import more than half 
of the calories they consume each day, the 
increasing prevalence of GMOs in their food 
supply reinforces a feeling of food vulnerability. 
For example, 97% of Japan's soybeans are 
imported, mostly from the United States, and are 
turned into tofu, fermented miso, natto and other 
staples of the Japanese diet. However, 28% of last 
year's U.S. soybean crop came from GMO seeds, 
according to the American Soybean Assn. That 
percentage could double when farmers plant this 
spring's crop. 
"We will have to find non-GMO sources," 
Yasuda said, adding that if American farmers want 
Japan's business, they will have to segregate crops.
Trouble is, U.S. farmers often plant GMO and 
traditional crops in the same field, use the same 
machinery to harvest and transport them, and pour 
their grains into container ships that bring a river of 
food across the Pacific to Japan. 
However, DNA testing is so sensitive that it can 
detect one GMO part per trillion, Kitch said. That 
means a few stray kernels of GMO corn could 
"contaminate" bushels. To certify a product 
GMO-free would require costly testing and 
segregation at every stage in the processing and 
distribution chain, he said. 
These obstacles have so far prevented Europe 
from fully implementing its labeling law, industry 
sources said. 
As GMO crops or livestock come to dominate 
the U.S. market, genetically pristine products will 
become scarcer and more costly. 
No one knows how much more 
expensive--though some estimate a "GMO-free" 
label could add 30% or more to the price, and 
wonder whether Japanese consumers will be 
willing to pay it. 
Japan's draft proposal on labeling does not 
specify how pure a non-GMO product would have 
to be. But without a threshold standard, a can of 
California tomato paste containing a smidgen of 
cornstarch that might have been made partly from 
GMO corn could wind up with a warning 
label--even if the tomatoes are all natural, Kitch 
Consumer advocate Yasuda and her allies say 
that imperfect labeling is better than none. And the 
fewer the "food miles" from farm to dinner table 
the better, they argue, even if home-grown fare is 
more costly. 
"Now, with globalization, we don't know where 
our food comes from, how it is produced, and what 
kind of contaminants it might contain," Yasuda said.
"Does free trade automatically mean that the 
cheapest food is the best food? We don't think so." 
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved