Frankencorn Fight: Cautionary Tales

By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
> From:

> Quotes of the Month:
> "Corn diversity is essential to the future of our agricultural
> systems. Jack Harlan, the famous botanist, has noted that genetic
> diversity 'stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we
> cannot imagine."  Press Release by Greenpeace Mexico 9/1/01
> "We have to get away from the romantic anachronism that developing
> countries should strive for self-sufficiency in food."  John Block,
> former US Secretary of Agriculture, 1986
> "For people who want to buy corn, there really isn't much choice but
> to come to us." Bob Kohlmeyer, Cargill Corporation, Des Moines
> Register 11/15/00
> "We have a saying in our company. Our competitors are our friends. Our
> customers are the enemy." James Randall, Archer Daniels Midland
> Corporation, quoted in Fortune magazine 4/26/99
> "Farmers don't like to hear that we're essentially a ward of the
> government, that we're on a workfare program," Alan Libbra, Illinois
> farmer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/5/01
> "Regardless of what the biotechnology industry wants us to believe,
> agricultural genetic engineering is an imprecise science. it relies on
> methods that include the haphazard insertion of genetic elements into
> a plant's genome. This in turn may result in the disruption of complex
> gene interactions and may lead to potentially catastrophic results."
> Dr. Michael Hansen & Ellen Hickey, Global Pesticide Campaigner, April
> 2000
> On September 4, 2001 Mexican officials admitted that an alarming
> number of genetically engineered (GE) corn plants have been detected
> growing alongside traditional corn varieties over a widespread area in
> the state of Oaxaca. For millennia corn has been sacred to the Maya
> and other native people of Mexico. Over centuries small farmers have
> carefully bred and preserved thousands of different traditional
> varieties of corn, called landraces, which are specific to each
> geographical region, soil type, and micro-climate of the country.
> Corn, or maize as it is called traditionally, remains today the most
> important crop for a quarter of the nation's 10 million indigenous and
> small farmers. Corn tortillas play a major role in the diet of Mexico'
> s 100 million people.  Critics have warned that GE corn should never
> be imported into Mexico, the most important world center of
> biodiversity for corn, since the gene pool of the nation's 20,000 corn
> varieties and plant relatives, including the progenitor species of
> corn, called teosinte, could be irreversibly damaged by "genetic
> pollution" from the genetically engineered (herbicide-resistant or
> Bt-spliced) maize being aggressively marketed by Monsanto, Syngenta
> (formerly called Novartis), and other agbiotech transnationals.
> Under pressure to protect the nation's corn biodiversity, Mexican
> authorities have proclaimed a moratorium on domestic cultivation of GE
> corn. Meanwhile, they have ignored the massive dumping of millions of
> tons of cheap (US taxpayer-subsidized) GE corn by corporations such
> Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill. Agronomists and
> environmentalists fear that Mexican farmers have now, perhaps
> unknowingly, spread this imported Frankencorn into most of the
> corn-growing regions of the country, by planting GE corn from the US
> which was supposed to be sold for human food consumption only. Since
> impoverished Mexican farmers are looking for the cheapest corn seed
> possible to plant, they are increasingly choosing to buy the imported
> GE-tainted corn from the US, since it is considerably cheaper than
> non-subsidized Mexican varieties.
> Compounding Mexico's genetic pollution problem is the fact that major
> overseas buyers of corn (Europe, Japan, Korea) are stubbornly refusing
> to buy gene-altered corn. Consequently North American exporters are
> finding it necessary to dump increasing amounts of GE-tainted maize on
> captive markets such as Mexico, China, Egypt, Colombia, Malaysia, and
> Brazil. Nineteen percent of the US corn, 14 million acres, is now
> genetically engineered, although GE acreage is down 30% from two years
> ago, mainly due to global resistance against Frankenfoods.
> Corn dumping in Mexico has accelerated since the advent of the 1994
> North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under the relentless
> pressure of globalization, Mexico has been transformed from being a
> major producer of corn (producing 98% of its needs for example in
> 1994) to a major importer, ranking third in the world (after Japan and
> Korea) in terms of imports from the US and Canada. The reason for this
> is simple. Corn costs essentially $3.40 a bushel for family-sized
> farmers in the US and Canada to produce, and even more for a small
> farmer in Mexico. Yet Cargill and ADM, due to their monopoly control
> of the market, pay US farmers less than $2.00 a bushel, with the US
> taxpayer picking up the remainder of the tab. This enormous subsidy in
> turn gets reimbursed to farmers, although large corporate farms get
> the lion's share of the US's annual $20-30 billion in farm price
> support payments. Even with enormous taxpayer subsidies, most years US
> farmers have trouble even recuperating their costs of corn
> production-leading to demands by family farmers for a breakup of
> Cargill and ADM's grain monopoly. Only organic corn farmers, operating
> outside ADM and Cargill's cartel, are receiving a fair price for their
> harvest. And of course North American organic corn growers are
> increasingly alarmed over the fact that "genetic pollution" or gene
> flow from GE corn fields are starting to contaminate their valuable
> crops.
> Longstanding Mexican government regulation of corn supply and prices,
> support for small corn growers, and price subsidies for corn tortillas
> for Mexican consumers have been eliminated, all at the behest of
> Cargill, ADM, and ADM's powerful Mexican partner, Gruma/Maseca. The
> end result of this globalization process is that small and
> medium-sized farmers, both North and South of the border, can't make a
> living, while ADM and Cargill (and their preferred customers such as
> McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Tyson, Smithfield) make a killing. Meanwhile,
> consumers, who have been promised that Free Trade would result in
> lower prices, are paying more for food every year. Corn tortillas, the
> main staple of the Mexican diet, have risen in price 300% since NAFTA
> came into effect.
> As botanists and plant breeders warn, contaminating Mexico's
> irreplaceable corn landraces and germplasm pool could be
>  "catastrophic" for farmers and consumers. For example in 1970,
> millions of acres of the US corn crop were devastated by a Southern
> corn leaf blight which destroyed 15% of the total US harvest (50% of
> all corn in some areas), leading to over $1 billion in losses, not to
> mention marketplace shortages. By going to the "germplasm" bank of
> thousands of traditional varieties cultivated in Mexico, and
> withdrawing several varieties which were resistant to the Southern
> corn blight, plant breeders were able to use conventional
> cross-breeding and come up with a single blight-resistant hybrid
> variety which was planted in 1971-thereby saving billions of dollars
> in losses and maintaining global food security.
> Underlining the central importance of corn biodiversity and preserving
> traditional varieties or landraces, researchers have also found in
> recent years that a perennial variety of corn's original parent,
> teosinte, found in Mexico, contains genes that can protect plants from
> seven of the nine principle viruses that infect corn crops in the US.
>  Of course if herbicide-resistant and Bt corn had already been
> polluting Mexico's centers of corn biodiversity before 1970, no one
> knows if the traditional variety resistant to Southern corn blight
> would still have been around to save the day. Likewise no one can
> predict the impact of Frankencorn pollution on virus-resistant
> teosinte varieties and other corn plant relatives. But one thing is
> certain, if globalization continues to drive several million Mexican
> farmers from the land, and forces traditional growers to shift to
> growing non-corn export crops, most of the nation's heirloom corn
> varieties or landraces will be lost forever, since centralized seed
> banks (which typically store rather than cultivate their thousands of
> different varieties) cannot properly preserve landraces which are no
> longer being cultivated in their native areas. Analysts estimate that
> almost a million small farmers-primary breeders and stewards of
> thousands of corn and other crop landraces--already have been driven
> from their cornfields and communal lands (ejidos) since Mexico
> essentially turned over control of its agricultural sector to Cargill,
> ADM, and other North American food giants.
> Even US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have
> previously warned that genetically engineered crops should not be
> grown where wild relatives exist (prohibiting for example GE cotton
> from being grown in parts of southern Florida, where wild relatives of
> cotton exist), much less in biological centers of diversity such as
> the maize-growing areas of Mexico. Of course this concern over genetic
> pollution didn't prevent the EPA in October 2001 from giving the green
> light to allow Bt corn to continue to be grown for seven more years in
> the US, ignoring environmental and public health concerns voiced by
> scientists and consumer groups--knowing full well that millions of
> tons of GE-tainted corn continue to be exported by US corporations to
> centers of corn biodiversity such as Mexico, Central America, South
> America, and the Caribbean.
> Genetic engineering of agricultural crops and corn dumping not only
> pose a serious threat to Mexico (and Central America's) corn
> biodiversity, but also pose a threat to continental peace and
> stability as well. Since NAFTA went into effect, local and regional
> markets for indigenous and small farmers in the region have been
> undermined and destroyed. Farmers are finding it increasingly
> difficult to sell their corn, beans, coffee, or other crops. Rural
> poverty and hunger have increased, forcing millions of campesinos to
> migrate to the US. Mounting desperation has also spawned widespread,
> at times violent, agrarian conflicts in Mexican states such as
> Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero and threatens to reignite armed struggle
> across Central America.
> The threat to thousands of traditional varieties of corn in Mexico is
> just one of the environmental hazards of genetically engineered corn.
> Other environmental dangers include:
> . Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-spliced corn and crops pose a mortal
> threat to organic and sustainable (low-chemical input) agriculture,
> since they may soon destroy the effectiveness of organic farmers' most
> important biopesticide. In its non-GE, natural Bt spray form, Bacillus
> thuringiensis is the most important pest control agent in organic
> agriculture, with yearly sales in the US alone of $60 million.  This
> non-GE spray form of Bt is applied externally and evaporates within
> 2-7 days. Scientists predict that the super-potent, long lasting toxin
> found in Bt gene-spliced corn and other plants are likely to give rise
> to Superpests such as corn ear-worms which will be immune to the
> natural organic Bt sprays.
> . Bt-spliced crops such as corn damage the soil food web, killing
> beneficial soil microorganisms and reducing soil fertility. Bt corn
> leaches its powerful genetically engineered poison into the soil (a
> toxin which differs considerably from the naturally occurring Bt soil
> bacteria) and remains toxic up to eight months, even after being
> plowed under the soil.
> . Bt-spliced crops kill off natural predators and disrupt the balance
> among insects, leading to pest infestations.
> . Bt-spliced crops kill beneficial insects such as lacewings and
> ladybugs.
> . Bt-spliced crops, due to increased insect mortality, reduce the food
> supply for birds and other insect predators such as bats.
> . Bt-corn pollen (ingested along with other Bt-contaminated corn
> tissue) kills monarch butterflies and related species, such as the
> endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
> . Herbicide-resistant GE corn, sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready
> weed killer, kills all the foliage in and around cornfields, depriving
> butterflies and related insects of important food sources such as
> milkweed. Roundup or glyphosate residues also remain in the soil and
> water, killing soil microorganisms and marine life.
> Bt corn is designed to punch holes in the intestines of certain
> insects and kill them. But what does it do to the gut, immune system,
> and other vital organs of humans and animals? A good question,
> especially since the biotech industry, EPA, and other government
> officials have never bothered to look at this public health issue,
> despite growing concerns expressed by a broad cross-section of
> scientists and public interest consumer groups. Everyone by now has
> heard about the StarLink corn fiasco 18 months ago, when an illegal
> and likely allergenic variety of Bt corn contaminated 10% of the US
> corn crop and forced a billion dollar recall of 300 brand name
> products, including Kraft Taco Bell shells. But what about the other
> varieties of Bt corn, the stuff you're likely eating every time you
> bite into a corn product which is not labeled "organic?"
> The Gene Giants claim that Bt corn is chemically "substantially
> equivalent" to conventional corn, and that eating it, therefore, will
> have exactly the same physiological impact as consuming regular corn.
> Well-respected experts such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers
> Union point out that this is not true. The Bt endotoxin and proteins
> expressed in every cell of genetically engineered corn are different
> from what humans and animals have ever eaten before. The haphazard
> insertion of a "genetic cassette" (including promoters, vectors, and
> antibiotic resistance marker genes) into the corn host genome is
> essentially random since scientists don't know if or when the foreign
> gene will be spliced into the plant's DNA, which of hundreds or even
> thousands of proteins will be expressed or generated, or even how many
> copies of the gene will be produced.  Bt, the naturally occurring soil
> bacteria, is not the same as Syngenta or Monsanto's patented and
> gene-altered Bt forcefully injected into GE corn. Although there's a
> lot we don't know yet about the potential hazards of eating GE corn,
> in terms of toxins, allergies, and impacts on the human gut and
> digestive system, there are enough danger signs already to give us
> pause for thought.  Mounting evidence includes the following:
> . Hundreds of Americans over the past year have reported allergic
> reactions to the FDA after eating corn products likely containing
> StarLink corn or other Bt varieties.
> . Scientists have pointed out that all Bt corn varieties produce
> proteins closely related to the suspected allergen in StarLink corn.
> . Cattle and other animals have been observed on a number of farms in
> the Midwestern US refusing to eat genetically engineered corn, while
> simultaneously munching conventional corn, along with the entire
> cornstalk, right down to the ground.
> . In a well-funded and carefully-designed experiment carried out by
> Dr. Arpad Pusztai in the UK in 1995-99, rats fed lectin-spliced
> potatoes (Bt is a member of the lectin family) suffered significant
> damage to their gut, immune system, and other vital organs. Pusztai
> later warned--after he was abruptly fired and his lab was shut
> down--that all gene-spliced lectins, including Bt crops, should be
> carefully investigated for possible adverse human health impacts.
> . Gene-altered antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes, similar to
> those contained in Bt corn, have been found in the guts of bees which
> had consumed the pollen from GE plants. Sophisticated studies in the
> Netherlands and Britain have indicated that ARM genes can likely
> combine with bacteria already present in the human throat, mouth, and
> gut. These "armed genes" can then give rise to new virulent,
> antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, exacerbating the already
> serious problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens such as salmonella,
> now routinely found in non-organic meat and other animal products. The
> British Medical Association and the World Health Organization have
> recommended that the use of antibiotic resistance genes in GE corn and
> other food crops be eliminated.
> Concerned that industry and government have failed to carry out proper
> scientific studies on the safety of GE corn and other Frankenfoods, a
> young Dutch science student, Hinze Hogendoorn, recently decided to
> take matters into his own hands. Dr. Mae Wan-Ho, a British geneticist
> and world renowned critic of biotechnology, reported the results of
> this simple, yet remarkable animal-feeding experiment on her website
> in December 2001. Here are excerpts from Dr. Ho's
> report:
> "A Dutch farmer left two piles of maize in a barn infested with mice,
> one pile GM (genetically modified), the other non-GM. The GM pile was
> untouched, while the non-GM pile was completely eaten up. Incredible!
> Young undergraduate Hinze Hogendoorn, from University College, Utrecht
> devised his own laboratory tests and confirmed the finding, and more.
> An activist group (Jongeren Milieu Aktief) presented the report Hinze
> has written to the Dutch parliament on December 11, 2001 and is
> featuring it on their new website (
> Hinze couldn't find a single scientific report on animals being tested
> for preference of GM versus non GM food on the web when he began. On
> extending his search to effects of GM foods on animals, he came across
> reports from companies developing GM foods, all declaring there were
> no adverse impacts. But he also came across independent researchers
> who have reported harmful effects, including Dr. Arpad Pusztai, who
> found GM potatoes damaged the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut of young
> rats.
> [Hinze] was stumped at first, because he would have needed to go
> through a lot of bureaucracy to experiment on animals. However, he
> managed to rescue 30 female six-week old mice bred to feed snakes from
> a herpetology centre. [Hinze gave] them a staple food along with the
> two foods [GM and non-GE corn and soya] that were to be compared, so
> they could really show their preference without being starved.
> Large cages were used so the mice had plenty of room to move around.
> At the beginning, all the mice were weighed before they were put into
> the cage[s].The mice had not eaten for some time, but amazingly, they
> [immediately] showed very definite food preferences [preferring the
> non GM corn and soya]. For the next [nine] week[s], Hinze continued to
> give the mice GM and non GM maize or soya chunks. the mice consumed
> 61% non GM and 39% GM food when given free choice.
> For the next experiment, Hinze tested for the [health] effects of GM
> food. Over the next 10 days, he kept track of the amount of food that
> the two groups consumed each day, and weighed the mice, halfway
> through and at the end of the experiments.
> The group fed GM ate more, probably because they were slightly heavier
> on average to begin with, but they gained less weight. By the end,
> they actually lost weight. In contrast, the group fed non GM ate less
> and gained more weight, continuing to gain weight until the end of the
> experiment. The results were statistically significant.
> That was not the only difference observed. There were marked
> behavioral differences. The mice fed GM food "seemed less active while
> in their cages."
> The most striking difference was when the mice were weighed at the end
> of the experiment. The mice fed GM food were "more distressed" than
> the other mice. "Many were running round and round the basket,
> scrabbling desperately in the sawdust, and even frantically jumping up
> the sides, something I'd never seen before." They were clearly more
> nervous than the mice from the other cage. "For me this was the most
> disconcerting evidence that GM food is not quite normal."
> Another "interesting result" is that one of the mice in the GM cage
> was found dead at the end of the experiment. Hinze concluded, "At the
> end of everything, I must admit that the experiment has done nothing
> to soothe my qualms concerning genetically enhanced food."
> The hazards of genetically engineered corn, and other GE foods, are
> frightening. But even if global resistance were able to drive GE corn
> off the market tomorrow, we would still be left with a highly toxic,
> chemical-intensive, industrial-style system of corn production which
> is depleting soil fertility, poisoning municipal water supplies, and
> quickly turning indigenous people and family farmers into an
> endangered species. Even without Frankencrops, we would still be
> facing an out-of-control globalization process, which is driving
> millions of farmers off the land and forcing desperate peasants to
> chop down remaining forests--in the process driving hundreds of
> thousands of landraces and traditional varieties of plants,
> microorganisms, (and animals) into extinction.
> Syngenta's conventional (non-GE) corn and pesticides are just as scary
> as their Frankencorn. Syngenta profits by selling corn farmers either
> gene-altered Bt corn or its conventional (fertilizer and
> pesticide-intensive) hybrids, along with its super toxic weed killer,
> Atrazine, a known carcinogen. Unfortunately Atrazine not only kills
> weeds, but also ends up as a dangerous residue in the meat and dairy
> products of animals that have eaten Atrazine-sprayed corn. Atrazine,
> along with its companion pesticides, have also polluted wells and
> drinking water in 97% of the communities in the US Corn Belt. What's
> more dangerous, eating Bt corn, consuming pesticide residues in your
> Big Mac or non-organic dairy products, or drinking the tap water that
> comes out of your faucet?
> Similarly, Monsanto is in the business of selling toxic pesticides and
> herbicides, whether it is to farmers growing GE crops, farmers growing
> non-GE hybrid crops, Roundup-spraying drug warriors in Colombia or
> California, or suburbanites trying to get that perfectly green lawn.
> After 100 years of poisoning the public with substances like PCBs and
> Agent Orange, Monsanto tells us that their latest toxic chemicals such
> as Roundup, or their latest seed varieties, such as Roundup Ready corn
> are perfectly safe. Should we believe them? Or what about Cargill?
> They're happy to sell their chemical nitrate fertilizers (which also
> end up in most Americans' drinking water) to farmers, whether they are
> planting GE Frankencrops or just conventional industrial hybrids. Or
> ADM, who are happy to sell you either GE corn or non-GE corn, as long
> as they can drive the prices down which they pay to farmers, and drive
> the prices up to their "enemy," the consumer.
> The solution of course to all this is to buy and eat organic food, and
> to buy from local and regional farmers and companies, rather than the
> transnational corporations whenever possible. Mexicans can protect
> their health and preserve their biodiversity by boycotting gringo
> GE-tainted corn and buying organic corn produced by Mexican farmers
> cultivating traditional varieties. US consumers similarly can protect
> their health, their drinking water, and their children by buying
> organic and local. Fortunately this is what more and more people are
> doing everyday, not only in the USA but across the world. Farmers in
> 130 nations are now producing certified organic food for a booming
> market of organic consumers, making organic the fasting growing
> component of world agriculture. Thirty million Americans are now
> buying organic food and the numbers are rising every month. Since
> September 11, sales of organic and natural food have increased 8%.
> Beyond voting with our consumer dollars and our knives and forks for a
> sustainable and organic future, organic consumers also need to
> organize ourselves into a potent political force. As the labor
> populist Mother Jones told rural Americans 100 years ago: "It's time
> to raise less corn and raise more hell."  Instead of letting the
> politicians raise our taxes in order to subsidize the profits of the
> Gene Giants and corporate agribusiness, we should be raising hell in
> Washington and in our state capitals to raise corporate taxes to
> subsidize healthy food and a healthy environment. Instead of
> subsidizing GE corn, pesticide-intensive corn, and industrial-sized
> farms, our billions of dollars in farm subsidies should be promoting
> organic agriculture, saving family farms, and promoting Fair Trade,
> not Free Trade, among nations.
> The OCA, is organizing, along with our allies in the Genetically
> Engineered Food Alert <> a national day of protest
> against genetically engineered corn on February 6. We will be
> targeting the largest food corporation in the US, Kraft/Phillip
> Morris, as well as other companies and supermarket chains to remove GE
> corn from US consumer products. On this day we will also be telling
> the government to take Bt corn off the market, unless it can be proven
> safe for human consumption and the environment (which of course it
> cannot). At the same time we are calling on grain exporters and the US
> government to protect corn biodiversity and to honor the global treaty
> on Biodiversity (the Biosasfety Protocol signed in Cartagena,
> Colombia, Feb. 2000) by ending the dumping of taxpayer subsidized GE
> corn in Mexico and other nations.
> We need your help to pressure Kraft and to leaflet major supermarket
> chains on Feb. 6. We need to tell America's food giants to stop
> selling Bt corn and other unlabeled and untested Frankenfoods. If you
> are willing to help leaflet in your community, please send an email to
> To send a email to Kraft click here
> Stay tuned to BioDemocracy News and our website
> for the latest news and developments. We have
> thousands of articles posted on our website (and a convenient Search
> Engine to find them) which deal with GE food, Mad Cow, food
> irradiation, industrial agriculture, food safety, organic food, and
> globalization. On our website you'll also find the latest information
> and Action Alerts on current OCA campaigns, such as the Starbucks
> campaign. Check us out.
> *** End of BioDemocracy News #37***
> _______________________________________________
> Biodemocracy mailing list