Wednesday, January 30, 2008

USDA Under Pressure to Address Almond Pasteurization Issue

Those of you who have been reading this newsletter for a while will remember that we have been following the story of the almond industry's move to require all raw almonds to be pasteurized by steam or chemical processing, and yet still be labeled as 'raw.' The Cornucopia Institute has been working tirelessly to get the USDA to reverse this decision. Mark Kastel from Cornucopia has written an update on the situation and given us permission to reprint it here:

Co-directors of the Cornucopia Institute met with three high-ranking officials at the USDA in Washington to discuss the outpouring of public concern regarding the agency’s very controversial mandatory almond pasteurization order for domestically grown raw almonds. Cornucopia used the meeting as an opportunity to deliver more than 1,500 individual proxy letters opposing the new requirement, adding to thousands of other e-mails and contacts the USDA has received. For the better part of an hour, Cornucopia discussed the concerns of consumers and the mounting negative impact the almond pasteurization rule has on family farmers and organic farmers.

Cornucopia then offered a compromise proposal for the USDA to consider. The farm policy group suggested a plan permitting the sale of untreated American-grown almonds with a warning label, which would allow for continued freedom of choice in the marketplace and would allow marketers the option of continuing to sell raw almonds. Cornucopia also requested that the USDA consider a second solution - a pasteurization exemption for organic almond growers (since the organic sector has not been implicated in any of the past contamination problems associated with almonds and organic regulations have certain food safety protocols built-in).

The response from USDA staff was encouraging ("constructive” in the words of one official). Half of all public comments being received by the Secretary of Agriculture, according to these USDA officials, have been on the almond issue! They are clearly hearing the public’s voice, but they need to respond as well.

A number of family-scale almond farmers and organic farmers - who rely upon the sale of their nuts to domestic markets - are being severely harmed by the almond rule. Costs of almond pasteurization, either with the toxic fumigant propylene oxide or steam heat, were underestimated by the USDA. And a number of retail outlets have switched, due to consumer demand, to foreign-grown raw almonds that can still be sold in the U.S. without being pasteurized. One American family farmer growing almonds has reported to Cornucopia that he has incurred losses totaling $400,000 from the new rule.

As part of the compromise proposal to the USDA, Cornucopia offered to wait until early 2008 before initiating any legal action seeking to suspend or overturn the pasteurization rule. If the plan falls through at USDA, watch for news on the legal front.

Meanwhile, Cornucopia is seeking to keep the issue front and center at USDA. As proxy letters from the public continue to come in to the organization, they are being hand delivered to the USDA. If you haven't already, please make your voice heard! An action alert with downloadable proxy letter and directions about where to send it are available at:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler: The Global Overproduction and Consumption of Meat

A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store - something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn't oil.

It's meat.

The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally - like oil - meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world's tropical rain forests.

Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country's rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world's total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a "relentless growth in livestock production."

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world's population, we "process" (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world's total.

Growing meat (it's hard to use the word "raising" when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it's a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth's ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases - more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan - a Camry, say - to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States - much of which now serves the demand for meat - contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation's rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.

Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world's wealthier citizens - heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the "you gotta eat meat" claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren't harmful, it's way more than enough.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government's recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It's likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources .

What can be done? There's no simple answer. Better waste management, for one. Eliminating subsidies would also help; the United Nations estimates that they account for 31 percent of global farm income. Improved farming practices would help, too. Mark W. Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the nonprofit International Food Policy Research Institute, says, "There should be investment in livestock breeding and management, to reduce the footprint needed to produce any given level of meat."

Full Story:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Biotech critics challenging Monsanto GMO sugar beet

By Carey Gillam REUTERS, January 23 2008

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Opponents of biotech crops said on Wednesday they were filing a lawsuit to challenge the USDA's deregulation of Monsanto Co's genetically engineered sugar beet because of fears of 'biological contamination' and other harm to the environment.

The Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and two organic seed groups said the lawsuit involved the United States Department of Agriculture's approval of Monsanto's glyphosate-resistant sugar beet, which is engineered to withstand treatment of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

The 'Roundup Ready' sugar beets are slated to be grown on a commercial scale for the first time in the United States this year, the groups said.

Neither Monsanto nor USDA officials could be reached immediately for comment.

The groups said the wind-pollinated biotech sugar beets will cross-pollinate and contaminate conventional sugar beets, organic chard and table beet crops.

As well, the groups said the biotech sugar beets will increase the recent rise of weeds resistant to herbicide, which have been reported on 2.4 million acres of U.S. cropland, the groups said.

'The law requires the government to take a hard look at the impact that deregulating Roundup Ready sugar beets will have on human health, agriculture and the environment,' said Greg Loarie, an attorney at the Earthjustice law firm, which is helping represent the plaintiffs. 'The government cannot simply ignore the fact that deregulation will harm organic farmers and consumers, and exacerbate the growing epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds.'

The lawsuit is similar to one biotech crop opponents filed over the USDA's deregulation of Monsanto's genetically altered alfalfa, which led a federal judge last year to issue a nationwide ban against the planting of the Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The judge found that U.S. regulators improperly allowed the commercialization of the biotech alfalfa without a thorough examination of its effects.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spilling the Beans, January 2008

From Jeffrey Smith

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For a more in-depth look at 65 health risks of GM foods, excerpted from Jeffrey Smith's comprehensive new book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, click here.


The US sugar beet industry is threatening to venture into the world of genetically modified (GM) crops, hoping to introduce a new gene-spliced variety by Monsanto as early as spring 2008. But if the experience of the last decade is any indication, such a move will lead to huge economic losses for the sugar industry and even for US food companies who use sugar as an ingredient. Moreover, the timing for such an introduction couldn’t be worse. GM sugar would be dispersed through the food supply in early 2009, just as the new president is sworn in. If he or she is a democrat, which is likely, then mandatory labeling of GM foods will soon follow. And more than 50% of Americans have said they would reject GM foods if given a choice. But even without mandatory labeling, there is a significant industry and consumer effort underway to remove all remaining GM ingredients from the natural food industry, and to provide consumers with handy non-GMO shopping guides. And if that weren’t enough, the recent evidence confirming that GM foods are dangerous to health,[1] is inspiring more and more physicians to prescribe non-GM diets to their patients. With all this, how the can sugar beet industry be serious about GM sugar beets? It appears that they are relying on Monsanto and the biotech industry for critical information. Oops.


For more than a decade, biotech advocates spread promises of an unprecedented economic boom, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, most of their hoopla remains “in the ‘promise’ category - and has been each year.”[2] Their “smorgasbord of marketing claims,” writes the Asia Times, just adds to “the credibility problems that are piling up against genetic engineering.”[3] The Wall Street Journal reported, “Not only has the biotech industry yielded negative financial returns for decades, it generally digs its hole deeper every year.”[4] The Associated Press says it “remains a money-losing, niche industry.”[5]

In spite of their poor track record, advocates continue to convince politicians and others to invest in their infant technology. “This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable,” said Joseph Cortright, an Oregon economist who co-wrote a report on the subject. “This is a bad-idea virus that has swept through governors, mayors and economic development officials.”[6]

Nowhere in the biotech world is the bad-idea virus more toxic than in its application to GM plants. Not only does the technology under-deliver, it consistently burdens governments and entire sectors with losses and problems. The Canadian National Farmers Union (NFU) observed, “Corporate and government managers have spent millions trying to convince farmers and other citizens of the benefits of genetically-modified crops. But this huge public relations effort has failed to obscure the truth: GM crops do not deliver the promised benefits; they create numerous problems, costs, and risks.”[7]


Among the first politicos hypnotized by biotech’s charm were in the White House during the first Bush administration. Vice President Dan Quayle chaired the elite Council on Competitiveness, which chose to fast track GM food in hopes that it would strengthen the economy and make American products more competitive overseas. The opposite ensued.

In Europe, virtually the entire food manufacturing and retail industry responded to consumer pressure by banning GM ingredients. Because of the difficulty of segregating GM from non-GM crops, importers simply rejected all food crops from the US if any of that species were modified. US corn exports to Europe, for example, have been virtually eliminated, down by 99.4 percent, even though the US produces plenty of non-GM corn. The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) calculated that the introduction of GM corn caused a drop in corn prices by 13 to 20%.[8] Their CEO said, “The ACGA believes an explanation is owed to the thousands of American farmers who were told to trust this technology, yet now see their prices fall to historically low levels while other countries exploit US vulnerability and pick off our export customers one by one.”[9] US soy sales also plummeted due to GM content.

When Canada became the only major producer to adopt GM canola in 1996, it led to a disaster there as well. The premium-paying EU market, which took about one-third of Canada’s canola exports in 1994 and one-fourth in ’95, stopped all imports from Canada by 1998. The GM canola was diverted to the low-priced Chinese market. Not only did Canadian canola prices fall to a record low,[10] Canada even lost their EU honey exports due to the GM pollen contamination. The Canadian NFU warns, “Closing markets and falling prices threaten to overwhelm any small, short-term economic benefits that GM crops or livestock may offer.”[11]

Four major GM crops comprise 99.9% of GM acreage: soy, corn, cotton, and canola. All four have varieties engineered to survive applications of specific herbicides. For example, if you spray Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide onto natural soybean plants, they die. But Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” soybeans survive. About 71% of all GM crops in the world are herbicide tolerant. The sugar beets planned for 2008 are Roundup Ready. Cotton and corn have also been engineered to produce a pesticide—called Bt-toxin—in every cell. About 18% of GM plants are Bt crops. Another 11% are engineered with both of these traits.

GM papaya is different. Genes are inserted into its DNA so the plant resists a disease called the ring-spot virus. Hawaiian farmers, politicians, and scientists succumbed to the bad-idea virus and introduced the papaya in 1997 hoping it would “save the industry.” Japan, which had been consuming 60% of Hawaii’s market, [12] shut its doors to the unwanted GM variety. The papaya price immediately dropped from $1.23 per kilo to just $.89, and has since fallen below 80 cents—well under production costs. The islands have lost half of their papaya farmers[13] and 28% of papaya acreage.[14] According to a 2006 article in The Honolulu Advertiser, “Hawaii papaya production sank to a more than 25-year low last year despite record demand among US consumers for the tropical fruit.”[15] Non-GM papaya, however, consistently sells for more than the GM variety. Although the GM papaya is still on the market, other failures in the US— GM tomatoes and potatoes—have been removed.

GM crops not only close markets and plunge prices, they force governments to shell out huge sums. According to Charles Benbrook, PhD, former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Agriculture, the US government payments to farmers are up by $3 to $5 billion annually due to GM crops.[16] He says growers have only been kept afloat by the huge jump in subsidies.[17]

Those farmers who stick with non-GM varieties are also penalized, as market prices drop across the board. If farmers want to keep their non-GM buyers, they typically have to spend more on GMO testing, buffer zones, and segregation systems including separate storage and shipping channels. Even then, they risk contamination and lost sales.

Similarly, if GM sugar beets are introduced, even food manufacturers who use non-GM sugar may be penalized. For products exported to the EU, for example, their law stipulates that sugar derived from GM beets would have to be labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients. Given the current purchasing guidelines by European importers, any US export that contains sugar would not be accepted unless the manufacturer implements a costly traceability program to verify that no GM sugar beets were used.


The biotech companies have been quite successful in convincing farmers that GM crops are the ticket to greater yields and higher profits. But the Canadian NFU flatly states, “The claim that GM seeds make our farms more profitable is false.” [18] Net farm incomes in Canada plummeted since the introduction of GM canola, with the last five years being the worst in Canada’s history.

The average GM crop reduces yield. Even a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2006 report stated that “currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. . . . In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars.” [19]

Most of the Bt corn in the US is designed to kill the European corn borer. According to the US National Academy of Sciences, [20] before Bt corn was available, only 5.2% of corn acreage was sprayed to protect against the corn borer. The reason, in part, was because the yield loss associated with the pest is only about 4%—not worth the cost of the pesticides. Further, insect infestation is intermittent, not consistent in every season.

A much larger number of farmers, however, now use Bt corn as an insurance policy, just in case their area gets infested during the growing season. According to the USDA, “adoption of Bt corn had a negative impact on net returns among specialized corn farms.” This was likely due to the fact that “the value of protections against the European corn borer was lower than” the higher costs paid for the Bt seed. The USDA “could not find positive financial impacts in either the field-level nor the whole-farm analysis” for adoption of Bt corn and Roundup Ready soybeans. They said, “Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of [GM] crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative.[21]

Herbicide tolerant crops generally lower average yields. As elsewhere, US farmers had expected higher yields with Roundup Ready soybeans, but independent studies confirm a yield loss of 4-11%.[22] Brazilian soybean yields are also down since Roundup Ready varieties were introduced.[23] In Canada, a study showed a 7.5% lower yield with Roundup Ready canola.[24]

The convenience factor of herbicide tolerant crops is now giving way to a nuisance factor of herbicide tolerant weeds. Overuse of Roundup has is causing a huge problem of weeds that are resistant to its active ingredient glyphosate. Herbicide use in the US was up 138 million pounds in the first nine years after GM crops were introduced.[25] That increase is accelerating, with approximately 120 million more pounds used in years 10 and 11.[26] Roundup Ready soybeans are also associated with higher herbicide use in Brazil. As weeds fail to respond to Roundup, farmers rely on more toxic pesticides. Over the past two years, for example, use of the highly toxic 2,4-D was up by 237% in the US.


The erratic performance of GM cotton illustrates the unpredictable nature of genetic engineering. When Monsanto’s GM cotton varieties were first introduced in the US, tens of thousands of acres suffered deformed roots and other problems, forcing the company to pay out millions in settlements.[27] In China, Bt cotton appeared to offer higher net returns, better yields, and pesticide reduction when first introduced in 1997.[28] By 2004, however, the cotton became more susceptible to other non-target pests, resulting in damage and forcing farmers to spray 15-20 times more than before. According to a Cornell University study, Bt farmers in China are now earning significantly less than non-Bt farmers.[29] In Indonesia, Bt cotton was also overrun with pests and other problems and was kicked out of the country (in spite of the Monsanto’s bribes to 140 officials over 5 years to try to get their cotton approved.)[30]

In Andhra Pradesh, India, because Bt cotton yields were down the first year by 52% and performance was unpredictable over the next two, non-Bt farmers earned 60% more over that time.[31] There was a long list of problems associated with the GM variety, including failure to germinate, drought damage, root-rot, leaf curl virus, brittle stems, increased pests, smaller bolls, increased labor requirements per acre, and a shorter harvest season.[32] The Maharashtra State Department of Agriculture also reported “the average boll weight” was less and “the staple length of the Bt cotton” was shorter, so that Bt cotton sold for “lower prices.”[33] The Andhra Pradesh Agriculture Minister demanded that Monsanto pay recompense for farmers losses,[34] several Bt varieties were banned by state governments, and official reports showed massive losses. Monsanto nonetheless continues to claim that its Bt cotton is performing well. They commissioned their crop evaluation studies, however, using market research agencies, not scientists. One report, for example, claimed 4 times the actual reduction in pesticide use, 12 times the actual yield, and 100 times the actual profit.[35]

Angry, indebted Indian farmers held violent street protests, burned seed outlets, and even tied up . . . Monsanto representatives in their villages,” until the police rescued them.[36] Thousands of Bt cotton farmers also committed suicide—the rate in one region was one suicide every eight hours.


In spite of biotech industry assurances that contamination wouldn’t be a problem, it has been a consistent and often overwhelming hardship for seed dealers, farmers, manufacturers, even whole food sectors. The biotech industry recommends buffer zones between fields, but these have not been competent to protect non-GM, organic, or wild plants from GMOs. A UK study showed canola cross-pollination occurring as far as 16 miles.[37]

But pollination is just one of several ways that contamination happens. There is also seed movement by weather and insects, crop mixing during harvest, transport, and storage, and very often, human error. The contamination in North America is so great, it is difficult for farmers to secure pure non-GM seed. In Canada, a study found 32 of 33 certified non-GM canola seeds were contaminated.[38] Most of the non-GM soy, corn, and canola seeds tested in the US also contained GMOs.[39]

Contamination can be very expensive. For example, StarLink corn—unapproved for human consumption—ended up the US food supply in 2000. More than 300 packaged food products were subject to recall and the total cost of the debacle was estimated at more than $1 billion. Numerous smaller scale contamination episodes hurt or ruin businesses every month.

Even escapes of experimental GM crops from small trials can devastate an industry. An unapproved GM rice variety, last field trialed in 2001, was discovered in US rice stocks in 2006. Within two days of the announcement, US rice futures dropped $150 million and the final price tag for industry is estimated at $1.2 billion.[40] In Thailand, even news that “some GM papayas were removed from the Khon Kaen research centre” caused a loss of the European market. A papaya grower said, “Importers cancelled orders and never asked for Thai papayas again.”[41] Thefts from Hawaiian papaya trials also preceded commercialization there, where the GM variety eventually caused massive contamination. In one study, 50% of the organic and wild papayas tested were genetically engineered.

Contamination also occurs year to year in the same field. About 10% of canola seeds, for example, fall to the ground and are not harvested. They can germinate in subsequent years as “volunteer” crops. A UK study showed that if a farmer plants GM canola for one year and non-GM thereafter, unless he undertakes stringent control measures, his or her harvest will continue to have more than 1% GM contamination for about 16 years.[[42]

If the farmer rotates from GM canola to another crop, he has another problem. GM canola is herbicide tolerant. Killing the volunteer crops may require using more toxic herbicides. In Canada, there are three herbicide tolerant varieties—two GM and one conventional. Due to cross pollination, studies have found canola that is resistant to all three types of herbicides. But it gets worse. Canola can cross pollinate with several weedy relatives such as wild mustard. Now these pollinated weeds have also developed resistance to weed killers and become “super weeds.”

There is no technology to fully eradicate GM contamination from the environmental gene pool. Thus, the self-propagating genetic pollution caused by today’s GMOs could theoretically outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste.


The natural response of farmers and governments around the world to the threat of GMOs has been to create GM free zones, moratoria, or other types of restrictions.

When Monsanto pushed hard to introduce GM wheat, the North American wheat industry, which had witnessed the fall of the corn, soy, and canola markets, were up in arms. More than 80 percent of US and Canadian foreign wheat buyers said they didn’t want GM wheat and might shop elsewhere if it were introduced. An Iowa State University economist projected a loss of 30-50% of the US wheat exports and a drop in prices by about a third.[43] More than 200 groups, including the US and Canadian National Farmers Unions, the Canadian Wheat Board, and the American Corn Growers Association, lobbied against Monsanto. They wanted North America to be a GM-wheat-free-zone. Monsanto withdrew its application on May 10, 2004.

When Hawaii coffee growers realized that GM coffee might destroy its premium market, it successfully lobbied for the University of Hawaii not to develop any varieties. Leaders in the rice, potato, flax, and sugar beet industries have also protected themselves by successfully blocking GM varieties.

More then 4500 jurisdictions on Europe have created GM free resolutions or laws, and countries and regions in every continent similarly have growing restrictions or complete bans.


In Iowa State University a few years ago, a memo was circulated to faculty and staff encouraging them to promote to farmers the idea of selling according to what the market wants. But there was an added point. GMOs were specifically cited as the exception! The very pro-GMO “land grant” university, which receives funding from the biotech industry, wanted their staff to promote GMOs knowing that they have been overwhelmingly rejected by consumers, retailers, and food companies since introduced in 1994.[44] “The depth of market rejection,” according to the Washington D.C. based Center for Food Safety, “is arguably unparalleled by any other consumer product.”[45]

Dan McGuire, Program Director of the American Corn Growers Association says, “Even in the face of all these negative market signals, it appears that some in the US are willing to promote biotechnology no matter how negative the impact is on US exports and commodity prices. That arrogant strategy is turning out to be a ‘market development in reverse’ program.” ACGA’s CEO adds, “An explanation is also owed our foreign customers on why the United States isn’t leading the effort to promote and sell the type of commodities and products they want and demand.”[46]


At a January 1999 conference in the US, a biotech company spokesperson projected a 95% conversion of all commercial seeds into GMOs within five years. Anderson Consulting also announced that they were working on a strategy for their client, Monsanto, whose stated ideal future was to genetically engineer 100% of all commercial seeds in the world.

Within weeks, that ideal future crashed. On February 16, the UK parliament invited GMO researcher Arpad Pusztai to testify, forcing his former employer to lift their gag order. When Pusztai started speaking about his controversial discoveries about the inherent health dangers of GMOs, the press erupted. By week’s end, they had written 159 “column feet” of text, which, according to one columnist, “divided society into two warring blocs.”[47] By April 1999, overwhelming consumer resistance to GM foods compelled Unilever to publicly commit to remove ingredients from its European brands. Within a week, nearly all major food companies followed suit.

The same corporations that removed GMOs from their European lines continue to sell them in the US, where only 1 in 4 consumers believe they have ever eaten a GM food in their lives.[48] The fact that GMOs flourish in the United States because of consumer ignorance leaves the industry extremely vulnerable. If some campaign or event were to push this issue above the national radar screen causing sufficient consumer concern, US manufacturers would respond like their European counterparts. The tipping point does not require that a majority of shoppers reject GM foods. If even a small percentage started switching brands based on GMO content, major companies would respond. After all, the products don’t gain anything from using them. Their foods aren’t fresher, tastier, or healthier.

Any sympathetic media could begin this domino effect. Similarly, a mandate from a prominent religious leader, a popular film, a food scare, or some new research finding, could force a stampede away from GM ingredients.

Already, 29 percent of Americans are strongly opposed to GM foods and believe they are unsafe.[49] But even among the 28 million Americans who regularly buy organic (and therefore non-GMO) food,[50] many do not conscientiously avoid GM ingredients in their non-organic purchases; the products are not labeled. There is a campaign underway, however, that will both educate health-conscious shoppers about GM food dangers and provide clear non-GMO choices in the natural food stores where they shop. Moreover, the natural products manufacturers, who have been bitterly complaining about GMOs for a decade, are now united in an unprecedented initiative to remove all remaining GM ingredients from food products throughout their sector. On top of this, major websites and media channels have committed support by providing regular coverage of the health risks of GM foods. It is expected that millions of health conscious shoppers will soon make brand choices based on non-GMO content, which will force the rest of the food industry into a European-style rejection of GM ingredients.

A tipping point against one GM product has already started in the US. There is a massive industry-wide rejection of dairy products made from cows injected with Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. Over the last year, major dairies, supermarkets, even Starbucks restaurants, have committed to stop using the controversial drug. Articles in the New York Times, Boston Globe and Reuters describe this as “an explosion in the industry,” “a tipping point,” and a “trend” that does not show “any signs of abating.” The transformation was triggered by organizations educating consumers about the health risks of the drug—and many of the same organizations are now focused on GM food crops.

But even if the tipping point is not reached by the consumer education, legislation put forward by the next US president may have the same effect. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and other democratic presidential candidates have all committed to implement what 90% of Americans have wanted for more than a decade—mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. When asked why they want GM foods labeled, most Americans say it is because they want to avoid GM them. Thus, once a date for mandatory labeling is set, major food companies will almost certainly eliminate GM ingredients from their products before then, to avoid the label.


If 90% of Americans want GM foods labeled, why hasn’t previous administrations given consumers what they want? It is due to the powerful transnational GM seed companies. There are only six, but their influence is enormous. Henry Miller, in charge of biotech issues at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for many years, admitted, “in this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.” Monsanto, which has patents on 90% of the plants currently commercialized, wields the most influence. According to the New York Times, “What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto—and, by extension, the biotechnology industry—got.”[51]

In fact, after the White House told the FDA to promote the biotechnology industry, the agency created a new position for Monsanto’s former attorney Michael Taylor, who then oversaw the policy for GMOs. Released in May 1992 and still in force, FDA policy states, “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” On the basis of this sentence, the FDA claimed that no safety studies are necessary; biotech companies thus determine on their own if their products are harmless. This set the stage for the rapid deployment of the new technology. The seed industry was consolidated, millions of acres were planted, hundreds of millions were fed, consumers and nations objected, laws were passed, crops were contaminated, billions of dollars were lost—and it turns out that sentence was a lie. The FDA was fully aware that GM crops were meaningfully different. That, in fact, was the overwhelming consensus among “the technical experts in the agency.” They had repeatedly warned their superiors that GM foods might create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects including allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. They urged the political appointees to require long-term safety studies, including human studies. The scientists’ concerns were kept secret in 1992, but seven years later, internal records were made public due to a lawsuit and the deception came to light. But it was too late. GM crops were widespread (and Michael Taylor had been duly rewarded after leaving the FDA by becoming a Monsanto vice president.)

There has been almost no long-term animal feeding studies, no human clinical trials, and no monitoring of the population to see if GM crops have had the adverse effects described by the FDA scientists. But even among the few serious safety studies that have been conducted, and the reports from farmers around the world, evidence has emerged showing that the government scientists’ concerns were justified. GM products have been linked with thousands of toxic and allergic reactions, thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals.[52]

While this evidence of harm has major implications for the health of the nation, it also carries an economic impact of those companies that have invested and used GM foods and crops. Physicians who have studied the subject are convinced that the dangers are real and are prescribing non-GMO diets to their patients. John H. Boyles, MD, an ear, nose, and throat, and allergy specialist, for example, says, “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it—unless it says organic,” (which would mean non-GMO).

There is a lot of unknowns surrounding GM sugar beets. They might become the first Roundup Ready crop to offer consistently higher yields—or not. They might be the first to reduce herbicide use—or not. They might save farmers money and increase farmer profits, or they might not. But irrespective of their agronomic performance, they will thrust the sugar industry, and all manufacturers who use sugar, into the gathering storm of resistance to GM foods as well as all its unknowns for human health and the environment. It seems clear that the time is not right to introduce GM beets.

Jeffrey Smith is the author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, as well as the international bestseller, Seeds of Deception. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.



The sugar beet industry hopes that their GM sugar beets will not generate the consumer rejection associated with other GM crops. The sugar, they contend, does not contain any GM DNA or protein. A similar argument has been made for oils derived by GM crops, including soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola. But experience conclusively shows that consumers do not want to eat products that are derived by GM crops—period.

This precautionary approach has scientific merit; the risks of GM crops are not limited just to its DNA or the protein produced by the inserted gene. The process of creating a GM plant causes massive collateral damage in the DNA—approximately 2-4% of the DNA is different (mutated) compared to its parent. This can result in increased or new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and anti-nutrients.

Even small amounts of contaminants can be quite dangerous. Consider the food supplement L-tryptophan, produced in the 1980’s by a Japanese company that used genetically engineered bacteria. The genetic engineering process was almost certainly the reason why the supplement contained 5 or 6 contaminants. They were tiny—0.1% to 0.01% of the total amount of product—but their effect huge. This brand killed about 100 Americans and caused 5,000-10,000 to become sick or permanently disabled.[53] It is important to note that the toxic tryptophan passed the US pharmaceutical standard for purity. The deadly contaminants were part of the acceptable level of impurity.

In addition, when a panel of top US allergists evaluated StarLink, the potentially allergenic GM corn that had illegally entered the food supply, the doctors concluded that no level of contamination would be considered safe. Allergens can trigger reactions at minute levels.

Finally, there are some endocrine disrupting substances that have effects in the parts per billion or trillion range. We cannot rule out the possibility that these disruptors are produced in GM crops, especially since some of the problems associated with GM feed (e.g. sterility, infant mortality and morbidity, gender-specific reactions) may be related to endocrine disruption.

Thus, in the case of sugar beets, the pulp used for animal feed, the molasses, and even the highly purified sugar, all contain levels of contamination that might harbor an unexpected byproduct of the GM process. It is quite unlikely that consumers will accept GM sugar if they are rejecting other GM products.



Although GMOs occupy only about 1.5% of total global crop land, the percentage of US soy, corn, and cotton farmers using GM seeds is quite high. The industry says this demonstrates that their crops perform better, but this argument is simplistic and misleading.

Biotech companies bought a large portion of the seed industry worldwide. They control the vast majority of the soy, corn, cotton, and canola seeds in North America. They not only offer incentives and quotas to their dealers for selling the GM varieties, many of the high performance non-GM varieties have been removed from the market. The US-based Center for Food Safety states that “for many farmers across the country, it has become difficult if not impossible to find high quality, conventional varieties of corn, soy, and cotton seed.[54] Charles Benbrook also confirms that “limited supplies of [popular] conventional crop seeds” has contributed to more GM seed sales. A2007 Friends of the Earth report concludes that since farmers are forced to “buy GM in order to get higher quality seeds” the high GM adoption rates do not necessarily come from farmers’ interest in GM crops.[55]

While Roundup Ready soybeans do not offer higher profits to farmers, the technology can reduce farm labor and give farmers “increased flexibility in the timing of herbicide applications.[56] This convenience is another reason for the high adoption.

Roundup Ready soybean fields are usually “cleaner,” meaning less weeds. Because farmers take pride in cleaner fields, this attribute turns out to be a very significant psychological motivator for GMO adoption—especially when the neighbor has cleaner GM fields. In fact, “some landlords insist on clean fields,[57] according to Mike Duffy, an Iowa State University economist.

Duffy says that landlord pressure and advertising likely contribute to the high use of herbicide tolerant soybeans. But he points out, “The primary beneficiaries of the first generation biotechnology products are most likely the seed companies that created the products. Additionally, in the case of herbicide tolerance, the companies that supply the tolerant herbicides also benefit from the development of the biotech crops.[58]

Some farmers admit that they use GM seeds because they fear Monsanto. “Thousands of US farmers have been investigated by Monsanto,[59] for allegedly saving harvested GM seeds and replanting them in the next season—an age-old farm practice made illegal by GMO buyers’ contracts. Monsanto won at least US$15.2 million from nearly 200 lawsuits against farmers and organizations, plus earnings from hundreds of private settlements. Several farmers complained that they either did not purchase Monsanto’s seeds at all, or did not save them. They say Monsanto’s allegations are based on faulty GMO detection tests or on unwanted GM contamination in their fields. Unwilling to challenge Monsanto in the expensive court system, some farmers choose to buy the company’s seeds each year just to prevent the company from targeting them.

Jeffrey M. Smith is the author of the new publication Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, which presents 65 risks in easy-to-read two-page spreads. His first book, Seeds of Deception, is the top rated and #1 selling book on GM foods in the world. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology,, which is spearheading the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America. Go to to learn more about how to avoid GM foods.

[1] See for example, Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007,
[2] Claire Robinson, Biotech Investment Busy Going Nowhere, ISIS Press Release, July 13, 2004
[3] Alan Boyd, Biotechnology: Breeding hurdles and hype, Asia Times, June 15, 2004,
[4] David P. Hamilton, "Biotech's Dismal Bottom Line: More Than $40 Billion in Losses: As Scientists Search for Cures, They Gobble Investor Cash; A Handful Hit the Jackpot - 'The Ultimate Roulette Game'", Wall Street Journal, 20 May 2004,$40B-Losses20may04.htm,
[5] Leslie Parrilla, Biotechnology grant trains workers, Associated Press, August 18, 2004,
[6] Chee Yoke Heong, Biotech investing a high-risk gamble, Asia Times, July 31, 2004,
[7] NFU (2005a) GM Crops: Not Needed on the Island, - Recommendations of the National Farmers Union to the Prince Edward Island Legislature's Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and the Environment,, viewed 20/6/07.
[8] Hugh Warwick and Gundala Meziani, Seeds of Doubt, UK Soil Association, September 2002
[9] "Corn Growers Challenge Logic of Promoting Biotechnology in Foreign Markets" Press Release American Corn Growers Association June 5, 2001
[10] NFU (2005a) GM Crops: Not Needed on the Island, - Recommendations of the National Farmers Union to the Prince Edward Island Legislature’s Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and the Environment,, viewed 20/6/07.
[11] NFU (2000) NFU Policy on GM Foods,, viewed 13/8/07.
[12] Melanie Bondera, Hawaiian papaya: market loss and contamination, Bangkok Post, April 27, 2006,
[13] Melanie Bondera, Hawaiian papaya: market loss and contamination, Bangkok Post, April 27, 2006,
[14] Greenpeace, 2006a. The Failure of GE Papaya in Hawai.
[15] The Honolulu Advertiser, 2006. Papaya Production Taking A Tumble.
[16] Hugh Warwick and Gundala Meziani, Seeds of Doubt, UK Soil Association, September 2002
[17] Charles Benbrook, “Premium Paid for Bt Corn Seed Improves Corporate Finances While Eroding Grower Profits,” Benbrook Consulting Services, Sandpoint, Idaho, February 2002
[18] NFU (2007) Submission by the National Farmers Union on The Farm Income Crisis Business Risk Management, and The “Next Generation” Agricultural Policy Framework, April 26th, 2007, viewed 13/8/07.
[19] Fernandez-Cornejo, J. & Caswell. April 2006. Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States. USDA/ERS Economic Information Bulletin n. 11.
[20] “Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation,” Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 2000.
[21] Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and McBride, W., May 2002. Adoption of Bioengineered Crops. ERS USDA Agricultural Economic Report, p.24.
[22] See for example, Charles Benbrook, Ag BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper Number 1, July 13, 1999, and Oplinger, E.S et al., 1999. Performance of Transgenetic Soyabeans, Northern US.
[23] ABIOVE, 2006a. Sustainaibility in the Legal Amazon. Presentation by Carlo Lovatelli at the Second Roundtable on Responsible Soy. Paraguay, 1 September 2006.
[24] Fulton, M. and Keyowski, L. “The Producer Benefits of Herbicide Resistant Canola.” AgBioForum, Vol 2 No 2, 1999, as reported in Stone,S. Matysek, A. and Dolling, A. Modelling Possible Impacts of GM Crops on Australian Trade . Productivity Commission Staff Research Paper, October 2002, at 32.
[25] Benbrook, C. (2004). “Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years,” Charles Benbrook, Technical Paper No. 7, October 2004, available at:
[26] Personal communication with Charles Benbrook, whose estimates are based on USDA figures.
[27] A. R. Myerson, “Seeds of discontent: cotton growers say strain cuts yields,” New York Times Nov. 19, 1997; K. L. Edmisten, and A.C. York, “Concerns with Roundup Ready Cotton,” North Carolina Cooperative Extensive Service, 1999.
[28 ] See for example, Huang J. et al., 2002. “Bt Cotton Benefits, Costs and Impacts in China” in AgBioforum, 5(4); Huang J. et al., September 2003. Bt Cotton Benefits, Costs and Impacts in China. IDS, Working Paper 202; and Zhang, B-H., Wang Q-L. August 2001. “Bt Cotton in China” in Current Science, vol. 81, n.4.
[29] Wang, S., Pinstrup-Andersen, P., 22-26 July 2006. Tarnishing Silver Bullets: Bt Technology Adoption, Bounded Rationality And The Outbreak Of Secondary Pest Infestations In China. Selected Paper prepared for presentation at the American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting Long Beach, CA.
[30] US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 6 January 2005a. SEC Sues Monsanto Company for Paying a Bribe. Monsanto Settles Action and Agrees to Pay a $500,000 Penalty. Monsanto also enters into Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Department of Justice. Litigation Release No. 19023.
[31] Qayum, A. and Sakkhari, K., 2004. Did Bt Cotton Fail Andhra Pradesh Again in 2003-2004? A Season Long Study (2003-2004) of the Performance of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh, India. Deccan Development Society, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, Permaculture Association of India.
[32] Abdul Qayum & Kiran Sakkhari. Did Bt Cotton Save Farmers in Warangal? A season long impact study of Bt Cotton - Kharif 2002 in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh . AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity & Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, 2003.
[33] Maharashtra State Department of Agriculture, 2003. Performance of Bt Cotton Cultivation in Maharashtra. Report of State Department of Agriculture.
[34] The Economic Times, 9 January 2006a. Bt Cotton Co Invites AP Government’s Ire.,curpg-1.cms
[35] Abdul Qayum & Kiran Sakkhari. Did Bt Cotton Save Farmers in Warangal? A season long impact study of Bt Cotton - Kharif 2002 in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh . AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity & Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, 2003.
[36] Abdul Qayum & Kiran Sakkhari. Did Bt Cotton Save Farmers in Warangal? A season long impact study of Bt Cotton - Kharif 2002 in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh . AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity & Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, 2003.
[37] Ramsay, G., Thompson, C. & Squire, G. (2004) Quantifying landscape-scale gene flow in oilseed rape, Scottish Crop Research Institute and the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), October 2004, p. 4., viewed 16/7/07.
[38] Friesen, L., Nelson, A. & Van Acker, R. (2003) Evidence of Contamination of Pedigreed Canola (Brassica napus) Seedlots in Western Canada with Genetically Engineered Herbicide Resistance Traits,” Agronomy Journal 95, 2003, pp. 1342-1347, cited in NFU (2005b).
[39] Mellon, M & Rissler, J. (2004) Gone to Seed: Transgenic Contaminants in the Traditional Seed Supply, Union of Concerned Scientists, cited in NFU (2005b).
[40] Neal Blue, “Risky Business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US,” Independent report commissioned by Greenpeace International, November 6, 2007
[41] GM testing takes battle to the fields Rival camps in face-off over open-air trials Kamol Sukin The Nation, 9 September 2007
[42] Squire, G.R., Begg, G.S. & Askew, M (2003) The potential for oilseed rape feral (volunteer) weeds to cause impurities in later oilseed rape crops, Final report of the DEFRA project: Consequences for Agriculture of the Introduction of Genetically Modified Crops, RG0114. Available at:, viewed 24/6/05
[44] For a good overview of rejection of GE crops at all levels of the food supply chain, see: “Monsanto & Genetic Engineering: Risks for Investors,” Innovest Strategic Value Adisors, Jan. 2005,
[45] Market Rejection of Genetically Engineered Foods, Center for Food Safety, August 2006,
[46] “Corn Growers Challenge Logic of Promoting Biotechnology in Foreign Markets, American Corn Growers Association, Press Release, June 5, 2001,
[47] Ziauddin Sardar, “Loss of Innocence: Genetically Modified Food,” New Statesman (UK) 129, no. 4425 (February 26, 1999): 47.
[48] Public Sentiment About Genetically Modified Food (2006 update). The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, December 2006,
[49] Public Sentiment About Genetically Modified Food (2006 update). The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, December 2006,
[50] “Hot New Consumer and Retail Trends,” The Natural Marketing Institute, Presented at Expo West, March 24, 2006.
[51] Kurt Eichenwald and others, “Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle,” New York Times, January 25, 2001
[52] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007,
[53] See for example, Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception, Chapter 4, Yes! Books, Fairfield, Iowa, 2003; and William Crist, “Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic,”
[54] The Center for Food Safety, 2005. Monsanto vs. US farmers.
[55] “who benefits from gm crops? an analysis of the global performance of gm crops (1996-2006),” Friends of the Earth International, 2007
[56] “who benefits from gm crops? an analysis of the global performance of gm crops (1996-2006),” Friends of the Earth International, 2007
[57] Duffy, M., 2001. Who Benefits from Biotechnology? Presented at the American Seed Trade Association meeting, December 5 -7, 2001, Chicago, Illinois.
[58] Duffy, M., 2001. Who Benefits from Biotechnology? Presented at the American Seed Trade Association meeting, December 5 -7, 2001, Chicago, Illinois.
[59] The Center for Food Safety, 2005. Monsanto vs. US farmers.

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