World Challenges GMOs




F

or
decades, biologists have known that a gene can be removed from
a cell, modified, and reinserted into the same cell or a different
cell from another species or even the other kingdom (plant and
animal). As the technology developed rapidly, during the 1980s
and 1990s, scientists warned that the process was inherently
risky. Its critics spelled out in detail the range of health,
environmental, and social problems that genetic “engineering”
could bring. 


In 1998, many of those critics came together for The first grassroots
Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering. The gathering
was in St. Louis, the home town of Monsanto, the world’s
most aggressive proponent of GMOs. The company’s spokespeople
claim that genetic engineering is necessary to feed the world’s
growing population. 


Monsanto has a long record of creating some of the most toxic
substances on earth, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs,
banned from production since 1976), Agent Orange (the defoliant
used during the Vietnam War that poisoned civilians and soldiers),
household products contaminated with dioxin, herbicides such
as Roundup (associated with gatrointestinal pain, swelling of
the lungs, and destruction of red blood cells), rBGH (the hormone
used to stimulate milk production that causes udder infections
and spontaneous death in cows), and a host of genetically modified
plants. 


A pattern runs through these products. Research discovers a
severe or fatal health risk. Monsanto covers up the research
or scientists beholden to Monsanto produce false data to hide
the facts. To make sure that information does not become widely
known, Monsanto uses financial muscle to silence the press.
Government agencies become incapable of regulating the company
as it implements a “revolving door” strategy of making
sure that former regulators and political supporters are financially
comfortable. 


Many who had fought against the corporation’s sordid record
welcomed the opportunity to come to St. Louis for the 1998 event
and protest at the Monsanto World Headquarters. At that gathering,
researchers explained how shooting a gene into an inexact location
in a foreign species produces unpredictable results. Farm advocates
spoke of how genetic engineering produces lower yield, not the
higher yield promised by Monsanto. Health experts warned that
genetic engineering is used to allow greater quantities of herbicides,
which affects the health of farm workers. Genetically engineered
foods produce toxic reactions as well as food allergies, which
are most serious in children. 


Those
at the event learned how genes can escape from domestic crops
to their wild relatives, giving weeds immunity to herbicides.
Genetically engineered microorganisms can unpredictably kill
crops and genetically engineered plants can harm wildlife. 


The gathering attracted many newcomers to movement politics
who were shocked to hear  how “Fox News” in Florida
bent to pressure from Monsanto, suppressed their story on rBGH
milk, and ultimately dismissed the reporters, Jane Akre and
Steve Wilson. 


Vandana Shiva pulled the diverse knowledge together, explaining
the way genetic engineering is used by corporations to monopolize
the seed supply and raise the cost of farming so that agribusiness
can consolidate its control worldwide. 



Exploding Opposition 



S

ince
the 1998 gathering, threats from the biotech industry have increased
profoundly while opposition to it has exploded. The international
movement for labeling genetically engineered food gained tremendous
world-wide support as it exposed corporations which were terrified
that telling consumers that their food was genetically engineered
would be putting a skull and crossbones on it. Opponents have
pulled up so many test fields of GMO crops that companies and
governments have taken to hiding their locations. 


Biotech proponents have frenetically sought to silence criticism
as they shriek that corporate-funded research is the only road
to scientific truth. When he began his investigations, Arpad
Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland was neither
for nor against genetic engineering. But when results of his
own studies showed that rats fed genetically engineered potatoes
had damaged internal organs, he felt compelled in 1998 to warn
the public. He was involuntarily retired from his position and
condemned in a report by the British Royal Society. 


In 2001, the journal

Nature

published findings of University
of California researcher Ignacio Chapela showing that genetically
contaminated corn cross-pollinated with native Mexican species
hundreds of miles away. For the first time in its heretofore
distinguished history,

Nature

bowed so low to corporate
greed that it printed a retraction of Chapela’s article
(based on methodological disagreements, which did not challenge
the finding of cross-pollination). 


About
the same time, the world became aware of the plight of Saskatchewan
farmer Percy Schmeiser. Monsanto’s corporate police had
trespassed on Schmeiser’s fields to steal canola plants
for testing. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent violations when
genetic testing showed the presence of Roundup Ready Canola
DNA. The court ruled in Monsanto’s favor, declaring irrelevant
Schmeiser’s testimony that he never used the Monsanto product
and that wind-blown pollen had contaminated his fields. 



Hunger in 2002 



T

hese
events set the stage for countries of southern Africa telling
the U.S. “No GMOs” in summer 2002. One of the most
eloquent spokespersons on the dangers of GMOs to Africa has
been Ethiopia’s Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, a winner
of a Right Livelihood Award in 2000. Egziabher believes that,
even though global warming is making droughts more frequent,
Ethiopia is able to feed itself by storing surplus food during
bumper harvests.  


Hunger is due to the country’s being too poor to ship stored
food from one location to another. International food aid agencies
could assist impoverished African countries by cash donations
that would help develop their transportation systems as well
as strengthen local farms. In contrast, the U.S. concept of
food aid is to create dependency in Africa by dumping U.S. GMO
food that Europe won’t touch. 


Egziabher
also fears that economic dependency on GMO food from the U.S.
is fraught with health, environmental, and patent dangers. One
of the main GMO crops is corn. Donated GMO food could become
the entire diet of starving people, as opposed to only a portion
of food eaten by those in other parts of the world. This means
that any long-term effects of allergenicity, cancer, or birth
defects (which have not been adequately studied) could be multiplied
for victims of famine. 


What would happen if African farmers saved GM seed and replanted
it? GM pollen is known to kill butterflies, which are important
pollinators for African crops. GM crops have lower yield, since
they are designed for farmers who can afford large amounts of
pesticides. Many animals refuse to eat stems and leaves of GM
corn. If pigs eat GM food, their reproductive capacity can be
reduced. 


Despite the treatment of Chapela in

Nature

, African scientists
know that wind can spread GM pollen across the continent. If
that contaminates enough African crops, Europe would not buy
them, leaving desperate farmers crushed. 


African governments also know of the Percy Schmeiser case. If
fields are contaminated by GM pollen and the next generation
of corn tests positive for GM, farmers would become patents
violators and owe technology fees to Monsanto and other biomasters.
Massive impoverishment could cause the transfer of land throughout
Africa. 



Returning to St. Louis 



T

he 1998
Biodevastation gathering sparked subsequent events in Seattle,
New Delhi, Boston, San Diego, and Toronto. The anti-genetic
engineering movement has won the hearts and minds of Europe
and India and support from governments in southern Africa. In
the U.S., there is a strong alliance between anti-GE activists,
family farm organizations, and the anti-globalization movement. 


On May 16 to 18, 2003, the Biodevastation series will return
to St. Louis for the gathering on Genetic Engineering: A Technology
of Corporate Control. The Gateway Greens are working with the
Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis to make this the
cutting edge event defining links between environmental racism
and biotechnology industries. Subtitled A Forum on Environmental
Racism, World Agriculture and Biowarfare, the gathering is organized
around five main themes: The International Threat to Farms and
Farmers; Corporate Greed and Environmental Racism; Biowarfare,
Globalization and Food Imperialism; Crop Contamination; and
the Future of Indigenous Agriculture. 


As genetic engineering drives the price of farming too high
for the poor, it pushes them off their land, it destroys ecosystems
existing in harmony with the land, it transforms its victims
into “terrorists” if they resist, and it leaves them
to discover the unknown effects of eating genetically contaminated
food when their bodies have been poisoned with countless agricultural
chemicals. Biodevastation 7 will be the first time a gathering
focuses on how genetic engineering is used to crush people of
color. Even more important, it will develop more coordinated
resistance between the expanding numbers of people who realize
the danger of the technology. 





Don
Fitz is editor of



Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine
of Green Social Thought



and is on the National Committee
of the Greens/Green Party U.S.