soybean breeder position

Karl Davies kdavies at
Tue Sep 9 20:20:18 EST 1997

Gee, how come you left out developing resistance to herbicides?  Or do you
figure Monsanto already has that market covered?  And how come you left out
controling mutations of Cauliflower Mosaic Virus in genetically engineered
soybeans--so that they won't develop into new plagues?
Food & Water Journal, Spring 1996

Genetic Engineering:  Consumer Beware!          -- Brian Tokar

        The floodgates are opening this year for the widespread commercial

sale of genetically engineered foods.  After nearly a decade of research in

laboratories and experimental farm plots across the country, U.S.

government agencies have issued approvals for genetically engineered crops

to be grown in large quantities and offered for sale.  Last year, final

consent was obtained for engineered varieties of corn, squash, potatoes,

tomatoes, soybeans, canola and cotton.  Many of these crops were raised for

seed during the 1995 growing season, and may be available in your local

supermarket later this year.

        Since 1990, nearly 3000 varieties of genetically engineered plants,

animals and bacteria have been developed and field tested in the United

States.  Field tests have occured in every state except Vermont, New

Hampshire, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.  Plants have been

manipulated genetically to resist high doses of herbicides, manufacture

insecticidal toxins, resist viruses, ripen more slowly or more uniformly,

and display altered chemical compositions.  Chemical companies such as

Monsanto, Ciba-Geigy, DuPont and Upjohn, along with many of the largest

commercial seed companies, have invested heavily in biotechnologies such as

genetic engineering in an effort to expand their control over the

increasingly monopolized food industry.  While some of these engineered

crops will be marketed as specialty products, others may be mingled with

the general food supply, making it difficult to distinguish them from

non-engineered varieties.  Only widespread consumer outrage can prevent

these giant corporations from dramatically increasing their control over

our food, and furthering the spread of this dangerous new technology.

        Genetically altered plants have many qualities that distinguish

them from their naturally-growing relatives.  Genes from other plants,

bacteria, viruses and even animals are isolated from their original sources

and spliced into the earliest, embryonic cells of the plant of choice.

However, despite the repeated claims of industry representatives, this is

far from a foolproof process.  The resulting genetic patchwork, containing

genes from a number of completely unrelated sources, will often behave in

strange and unexpected ways, and can display unpredictable nutritional,

behavioral and environmental properties.  While research aimed at

developing new genetically engineered crops has proceeded at lightning

speed in recent years, research to improve our understanding of the

possible consequences has crept along at a pace that would embarass a


        Thus, the long range effects of these new crops remains largely

unpredictable.  Only the most extreme cases require any special scrutiny by

the FDA and other agencies, and none of these products will have to be

labeled.  The ability to provoke an allergic reaction, for example, can be

accidentally transferred from one plant to another in the course of

transfering genes.  Most engineered crops are resistant to antibiotics,

which are used as experimental markers to easily distinguish altered plant

cells from their normal relatives.  Antibiotic resistance can be passed on

to bacteria  in the soil or even to organisms residing in or on exposed

people and animals.  Levels of toxic substances ordinarily found at

below-detectable levels in foods may be increased, and unique combinations

of genetic traits might even have an effect on our ability to digest food

properly.  Many engineered crops allow increased use of herbicides and

pesticides in agriculture, and make it easier for food processing companies

to impose higher standards of uniformity.  Farmers producing crops under

contract to food processors -- an increasingly common practice -- are often

required to follow a strict schedule of chemical treatments, even if a

particular pesticide treatment might be against the grower's own better


        Here are some of the items that may be coming to your supermarket

this summer, thanks to the latest innovations in biotechnology:

                Tomatoes that look fresher, but aren't:  Since 1993, Food &

Water has been reporting on the efforts of Calgene and other biotechnology

companies to produce a tomato engineered to ripen more slowly for longer

shelf life.  Calgene's inability to convince anyone to buy these tomatoes

drove the company right to the edge of bankruptcy last summer.  Just when

the end appeared to be in sight, Monsanto jumped in, purchasing 49.9

percent of Calgene stock, and offering the company and its "Flavr-Savr"

tomatoes a new lease on life.  Monsanto has also purchased the vegetable

growing and packing company Gargiulo L.P. and merged its operations with

Calgene's (see sidebar).

                Soybeans and cotton grown with toxic herbicides:  Monsanto

will be marketing soybeans containing petunia, bacteria and virus genes

that render it resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate, which Monsanto

markets worldwide under the trade name, Roundup.  The Pesticide Action

Network reported last August that Monsanto is doubling its production

capacity for Roundup, a general purpose herbicide which is highly toxic to

most plants.  Meanwhile the French chemical company Rhone-Poulenc has

obtained EPA approval for an engineered variety of cotton that is resistant

to the herbicide bromoxynil.  The approval was for a three year trial, in

which Rhone-Poulenc is supposed to submit data on bromoxynil's effects on

human health.  This highly toxic herbicide is known to cause developmental

abnormalities in laboratory mammals and may cause birth defects and cancer

in humans.  There is little doubt that large increases in agricultural

herbicide use would result from the widespread use of these engineered


                Crops that make their own pesticide:  Varieties of corn,

potatoes and cotton have been approved that incorporate genes from Bacillus

thuringiensis (Bt), a variety of bacteria that is toxic to many varieties

of crop-damaging caterpillars.  But while the natural form of Bt's toxin is

only activated under special circumstances, making the short-lived bacteria

safe for use by organic growers, the active toxin released by these

engineered plants could impact populations of a wide variety of beneficial

insects, butterflies and moths.  The EPA has projected that widespread use

of Bt-engineered crops would result in many of the target pests becoming

resistant to Bt in three to five years.  Organic growers would lose one of

their safest and most flexible tools, and everyone else would either seek

higher-potency chemical pesticides, or have to wait for the biotechnology

industry to produce a yet more potent generation of pesticide-producing

strains.  The Swiss multinational Ciba-Geigy is both a leading pesticide

manufacturer and holder of the patent for Bt toxin-producing corn.

                Canola that can replace tropical oils:  Calgene, in

collaboration with Procter & Gamble, has produced a strain of rapeseed,

source of the ever-popular canola oil, that is high in lauric acid, a fatty

constituent naturally found in coconut and palm kernel oil.  While

consumers have widely rejected foods containing tropical oils due to their

high content of saturated fats like lauric acid, such fats are a key raw

material in the manufacture of detergents, soaps and cosmetics.  Procter &

Gamble has contracted to buy a million pounds of the high-lauric oil.  The

rape plant is a close relative of the wild mustards that grow abundantly

throughout much of the U.S., and these mustards could serve as carriers for

unique combinations of genetic traits to be passed on in the wild.

Researchers in Scotland recently reported that pollen from genetically

engineered oilseed rape escaped and fertilized plants a mile and a half

away.  The so-called "high lauric" canola will also impact the economies of

countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia that are highly

dependent on coconut and palm oil exports.

        In addition to genetically altering food crops, scientists have

investigated ways to alter the genetics of bacteria and insects to assist

agricultural production.  Last fall, a group of whistleblowers at the EPA

released a report describing the agency's efforts to speed up approval of a

strain of genetically engineered "super bacteria."  The bacteria are

related to common soil bacteria that attach to the root nodules of alfalfa,

clovers and legumes and allow these plants to absorb nitrogen directly from

the air.  The engineered variety has a doubled nitrogen-fixing gene, which

researchers hope will increase the nitrogen-fixing efficiency of plants

that the bacteria come into contact with.  It also contains a

nitrogen-fixation promoter gene from soybeans, a gene for resistance to the

antibiotics streptomycin and spectinomycin, obtained from dysentery-causing

Shigella bacteria, marker genes from E. coli, and a fragment of DNA from

another disease-causing strain of bacteria (Klebsiella pneumoniae)  that is

used to facilitate gene transfer in the laboratory.

        "Overeager to promote biotechnology, EPA has either deliberately

ignored or actively suppressed concerns raised by staff and independent

scientists," stated the report on these bacteria, released by the

organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.  A company

called Research Seeds, Inc., a susdiary of Land O'Lakes (a well-known

promoter of the use of engineered Bovine Growth Hormone in dairy cows)

received permission to field test these bacteria in 1993, despite a

plethora of public health, environmental and agricultural concerns.  EPA

approval for commercial sale of the bacteria is now pending, despite the

likelihood of serious disruption of soil ecology and fertility, the

development of more virulent weeds, spreading antibiotic resistance, and

the potential for pathogenic or allergic reactions in both people and


        Scientists at the University of Florida have added new genes to a

variety of tiny mites that feed on crop-destroying spider mites.  Genetic

marker genes have survived 150 generations in these mites, and researchers

are investigating ways to enable them to adapt better to Florida's climate

and also to resist pesticides.  Genetically engineered Medflies,

mosquitoes, honey bees, cotton bollworms and many other insects have been

created in laboratories for a variety of purposes.  Commercialization of

these organisms would result in their widespread release and use in the

environment. This poses significant environmental risks, as these creatures

all reproduce rapidly, play a variety of important ecological roles, travel

long distances, and would be impossible to control once released.

        These various developments are only the latest in the long range,

global effort by the biotechnology industry to supplant natural processes

in agriculture, medicine, forestry, and nearly every other realm, with

their own artificial, costly and ultimately short-term "solutions."

Scientists are isolating and manipulating hormones that control the growth

and flowering of plants.  They are engineering animals to produce drugs in

their milk, and raising pigs containing human immune system proteins that

may allow them to be used as sources of organs for transplants.  There have

been experiments involving animal viruses including rabies, as well as a

deadly rabbit virus that recently escaped from an experimental facility on

Wardang Island, off the coast of Australia.  Natural processes, and even

the genes of human beings are being patented by companies that see the

entire world as nothing more than objects to be controlled and profited

from.  These developments are merely symptoms of an economic system, and an

entire culture, that has fallen so far out of balance with the natural

world that the survival of complex life on earth is increasingly threatened

by its excesses.

        But none of these developments are as inevitable as industry

representatives would have us believe.  Just a decade ago, the experts were

predicting that Bovine Growth Hormone, genetically engineered plants,

anti-frost bacteria, and many other products of biotechnology would be

widely accepted by the early 1990s.  This has not, for the most part, come

to pass, and new developments in biotechnology are as uncertain and

controversial as ever.  The emergence of militant farmers' movements in

India and across south Asia reflects an emerging worldwide awareness of the

hazards of corporate agriculture, and is an important counterpart to our

own activism here in the U.S.  There is much reason for hope that organized

citizens and an increasingly educated public will continue to hold back

many of the worst consequences of this fundamentally life-denying


Sidebar:  Don't Trust Monsanto Tomatoes!

        In the 1920s, they brought us saccharine, and became the first U.S.

manufacturer of the controversial artificial sweetener.  In the sixties, it

was cancer-causing PCB's in electrical equipment.  They are the world's

largest seller of herbicides, and a leading manufacturer of insecticides

and disinfectants.  In the 1980s, they lied about the exposure of their own

production and maintenance workers in West Virginia to dioxin and other

dangerous chemicals.  Now they want to sell you fresh tomatoes!

        Last year, the Monsanto chemical company became the chief owner of

Gargiulo L.P., the nation's largest tomato grower, based in Naples,

Florida.  Gargiulo's operations have been combined with those of Calgene,

creator of the genetically altered (and grossly misnamed) "Flavr-Savr"

tomato, as part of Monsanto's effort to save Calgene from bankruptcy.  Now,

the combined companies are trying to make their brand of tomatoes a

household name.  The tomatoes, which will be sold under the "Gargiulo

Farms" and Calgene's "McGregor" brand names, are being test marketed in

Indiana and New York State.

        "We're sitting on the equivalent of (McDonald's founder) Ray Kroc

in the 1950s," Gargiulo vice president Robert Shulman told The Packer late

last year.  Starting with non-engineered varieties, the company hopes to

create an unprecedented consumer loyalty for brand-named tomatoes and

packaged salads.  Their goal is to "make the Gargiulo brand so big that a

BLT becomes a BLG -- bacon, lettuce and Gargiulo," reported The Packer.

        With Monsanto seeking an eventual 82% ownership of Gargiulo, it is

doubtful that buyers will know that they are being set up as guinea pigs

for the eventual mass-marketing of genetically engineered produce.  Calgene

proved unable to accomplish this despite an all-out effort over several

years.  Will Monsanto's "stealth" marketing strategy succeed?  Not if

consumers across the country flatly reject Monsanto's  Gargiulo brand

tomatoes even before they are ready to reintroduce genetically engineered

products under this label.

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