The American Soybean Association is about as hardline a supporter of Monsanto and all its works as you could get, so this statement of concern over customer resistance to GM crops (item 1) is particularly interesting, not least when coupled with the ASA's vice president and chairman mentioning that he himself has cut down his own GM soybeans production back in the U.S.
Apparently, he is concentrating onproducing more non-GM beans because of the relatively higher premiums on non-GM beans. When even the chairman of the ASA can't be kept bucking the market, the ship really is going down fast.
Meanwhile a statement from the 'Annual Meeting of The National Governor's Association' (item 2) concludes: "What would the world look like if this battle were lost?What if farmers in the United States joined their counterparts in Europe and Japan and simply gave up on the planting GM crops? If U.S. farmers all stopped growing GM corn and soybeans this would be turning back the clock - but not very far, only back to 1994.U.S. farmers would still be prosperous and U.S. consumers would be well fed.It would certainly be bad for the biotech industry and for Monsanto’s shareholders, otherwise here in the United States few would notice."
However, the statement goes on to suggest the US should keep battling on for the sake of the Third World!!
"Just last month a researcher at UC Davis announced the engineering of a salt-tolerant tomato, able to grow in soils 50 percent saltier than normal.Forthose interested in solving food production problems in poor countries, this is suggestive of what GM technologies might be able to do in the years ahead. Critics of GM crops in rich countries need to pause before they wrongly stigmatize these crops.If today's richcountries decide to stop or turn back the clock, they will still be rich.But if we stop the clock for the poor and the hungry, they will still be poor and hungry."
Obviously, no one has bothered to point out to the governors that this is pure hype and that a salt-tolerant wheat, able to grow in soils 50 percent saltier than normal, had been successfully bred by non-GM meanssome time back but without any of the save the world hullabaloo.
So that just leaves us fighting on for the sake of the biotech industry and Monsanto’s shareholders.
1. INTERVIEW-ASIA'S SENSITIVITY OVER GMO WORRIES US SOY TRADE
September 4, 2001
Sambit Mohanty [via AGNET SEPTEMBER 4, 2001]
KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia- Corwin Fee, vice president and chairman of the AmericanSoybean Association's (ASA)international marketing committee was cited as telling ReutersTuesday on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia Soy Buyers Conference that the growing sensitivity ofsome Asian nations towards gene-altered soybeans and China's new genetically modified organisms(GMO) rules are increasingly causing concern among the U.S. soy trade, adding, "On the issue of RoundupReady soybeans, we are definitely concerned. We are willing to work with them (Asian buyers)even though they have been approved for food. But once again, if it is still a customer preferencenot to involve them, there has to be a way of communication and a way to rectify the problem."
Fee was further cited as saying that the relatively higher premiums on non-GMO beans hadprompted him to cut down his own GMO soybeans production back in the U.S. and insteadconcentrate on producing more non-GMO beans, adding, "I as a farmer last year grew all RoundUp Ready soybeans. This year, I have cut down on that. Probably it will be the lowest amount ofRound Up ready beans I will be growing in several years. It is mainlyprofit-oriented."
Fee said the farm price of non-GMO beans was 30-35 cents a bushel, which was about 8-9 percenthigher than GMO bean prices.
2. STATEMENT ON AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY
[via AGNET SEPTEMBER 4, 2001]
August 6, 2001
Annual Meeting of The National Governor's Association
Statement on Agricultural Biotechnology to the Annual Meeting of The National Governor's Association at Providence, Rhode Island; August 6,2001
The United States has recently been out of step with the rest of the world in a number of policy areas, including climate change, landmines, the international criminal court, a comprehensive nuclear test ban, andnational missile defense.So perhaps it is unsurprising we are also out of stepwith the rest of the world on the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops. A majority of farmers in the United States are enthusiastic about growing GM crops, and most of our consumers are comfortable eating foods made from those crops, but in much of the rest of the world an attitude ofskepticism and opposition prevails.Because U.S. farm and food industries are export dependent, hostility toward GM crops and foods abroad cannot so easily be ignored.
GM crops were released commercially after extensive testing in 1994, they have been in wide use by farmers in the United States for more than six years now.They have performed in the field exactly as advertised.These genetically engineered crops - especially Roundup Ready soybeans and Btcorn and cotton - allow farmers to control weeds and insects while cutting production costs by using fewer, less toxic and less persistent herbicide and insecticide sprays. Yet the planting of these crops has not yet spread very far beyond the Western Hemisphere.As of last year, 98 percent ofall the world’s GM crops (mostly soybeans, corn, and cotton) were beingplanted in just three countries: The United States, Argentina, and Canada. Farmers in the rest of the world are scarcely producing any GM crops, for avariety of reasons: In Europe and Japan regulators approved RR soybeans and Bt corn at almost the same time as in the United States, and food safety officials announced these crops posed no new risks, but consumer opposition to these crops nonetheless emerged.Enflamed in part by organized media and direct action campaigns against GM foods waged by nongovernmental organizations such as Greenpeace, this consumer opposition reached a critical mass by 1998, at which point retail food chains in Europe began competing for customers by removing GM products from their shelves.Under these circumstances it was not surprising that farmers in Europe decided to forego planting GM crops. It was an accident of bad timing that GM foods first went on sale inEurope in the spring of 1996, at exactly the moment that mad cow disease was finally certified to be a human health threat. Mad cow disease had nothing to do with transgenic crops, but when regulatory authorities tried toassure consumers that the new GM foods were safe, those assurances had no credibility, because the same regulators had earlier said meat from madcows was safe. Resistance to GM foods in Europe also derives in part from Europe's farmore conservative food culture (in France, officials actually refer to their nation's “culinary sovereignty”), plus the multi-party political systems that operate in many European countries (this creates greater space for green parties to influence regulatory policies), plus some understandable resentment of the global reach and technological prowess of U.S.-based multinational firms such as Monsanto.
In Japan, where a national culture against supposedly impure foods is also strong, consumer resistance to GM products has sometimes grown to reach humorous dimensions. Health conscious smokers in Japan now insist on cigarettes containing only non-GM tobacco leaves, and health conscious beer drinkers insist that brewers use only non-GM cornstarch. This consumer resistance in Europe and Japan has through commodity market channels into the rest of the world.Consumers inside most poor countries are not yet influenced directly by GM food safety scares, but governments in poor countries nonetheless have to think twice about allowing theirfarmers to plant GM crops for fear of losing export sales to Europe or Japan. Earlier this spring even China, which has invested more than any other developing country in GM crop technologies and is now planting GM cotton over a significant area, decided for the moment not to legalize theplanting of any GM food or feed crops, such as corn or soybeans, partly for fear of losing export sales to Europe, Korea, or Japan Farmers and food industries in the United States must now confront similar worries.The United States exports roughly $10 billion worth of corn and soybeans every year.We export roughly 30 percent of all the soybeans we grow, and 20 percent of our corn.This year two thirds of our soybeansand 26 percent of our corn will be GM.Our exporters must naturally worryabout continued international acceptance for our products.
Until this year, the adverse impact was confined to relatively slightlosses of U.S. corn sales to Europe and to Japan.Authorities in the EU haltedall bulk shipments of imported corn from the United States in 1998, for the reason that bulk shipments were likely to contain kernels from some new GM corn varieties not yet approved for growing in the EU. The Europeans inthat year had halted approvals of new GM varieties under political pressurefrom consumers, NGOs, and green parties. The result for the United States has been a loss of about $200 million worth of corn sales to Europe everyyear. This has been wounding, but the European market was never really wide open to U.S. corn sales anyway, and even with the total ban on bulk corn shipments our farmers can still sell processed corn products into the EU, including animal feed products such as corn gluten.And bulk soybeansales to Europe have so far been hardly affected at all, since the one GMsoybean variety so far approved for planting in the United States is also approved for planting in the EU (in fact, the U.S. has informally halted new GM soybean approvals to keep things this way).Also, most soybean productsare used in Europe for animal feed, which has made them, until now, less directly worrisome to most European consumers.
But our GM corn product and soybean sales to Europe are now facing a new threat, in the form of much tighter EU traceability and labeling requirements.In February of this year the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers adopted a new updated Directive (2001/18/EC)governing the release of GM commodities into the environment, and this directive when it comes into force in October 2002 could harm trade by imposingwhat is called “traceability” onto the marketing of GM crops.From the farm to the final market, GM commodities (including food crops, animal feed crops, and even processed products derived from such crops) may now have to be segregated from non-GM commodities so they can be separately labeled and traced throughout the market chain.The stated purpose of this new regulation is to ensure the credibility of labeling rules, and tofacilitate the rapid withdrawal of a GM commodity from the market in the event thatan unforeseen risk to human health is subs!equently detected. No such risks from an approved GM crop has ever been detected, but the Europeans saythis new regulation is justified under their "precautionary principle."U.S. exporters are legitimately afraid that these new rules requiringsegregation of GM from non-GM will shut out of the European market our shipments of co-mingled GM plus non-GM corn products, soybeans and soybean products. If the EU goes ahead with these new traceability rules do U.S. exporters have any recourse?Since the EU is embracing this hyper-cautious approach without any scientific evidence of actual food safety risks (and even the EU Commissioner for Health, Mr. David Byrne, concedes there is no evidence of risk) you would think these burdensome new labeling and traceability regulations would be a violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization.The WTO allows governments to block imports underconditions of scientific uncertainty if human health or the environment could be at risk, but only on a provisional basis while seeking further scientific evidence of risk.The European regulations don't meet this standardbecause they are not explicitly linked to any search for additional evidence of risk. Yet I would discourage the thought that we can simply use WTO rules and dispute settlement procedures to force the EU to reverse its emergingstance on GM labeling and traceability. We and the Canadians tried the WTOoption earlier, in response to EU import restrictions on hormone-treated beef. We were successful in the WTO, winning two separate judgments that theEuropean import restrictions were without any scientific justification.But rather than let hormone treated beef into the EU, political leaders in Europetook the other course allowed under WTO rules: they kept their unjustifiedimport ban in effect and invited the U.S. to even the score by retaliatingagainst a comparable value of imports from Europe - products such as Roquefort cheese and Danish ham. So the result of using the WTO in this case wasnot a market opening but a tit-for-tat trade war.Trying to use the WTO to force political leaders in Europe to open their markets to GM productsthat many consume!rs don't want to eat is likely to produce an equally unsatisfying result.
In the case of Japan, the livestock industry in that country is so heavily dependent on corn and soybean imports for animal feed that officials there have tried hard to reassure consumers on GM foods without placingexcessive formal restrictions on trade. Japan has implemented a labeling rule for GM foods - it came into effect this last spring - but it is a weak rule designed to produce minimum market disruptions.It is weak in partbecause it only covers corn and soybeans, and only for direct human food use not animal feed use, and it because doesn’t cover processed foods such as GMsoy sauce of corn oil, corn syrup, or corn flakes, and also because a generous 5 percent tolerance is permitted (foods that are 95 percent GM free can be labeled as though completely GM free).
Even so, U.S. corn and soybean sales to Japan have been anything but safe from interruption.On several occasions last winter, traces of a GM corn variety called StarLink, which had been approved for feed use in theUnited States but not for food use and not for export to Japan, were detected in U.S. corn shipments to Japan.Under pressure from consumers, Japanbriefly cut back on its purchases of U.S. corn.StarLink corn had been denied approval for direct human food use because this variety contained aprotein that digested slowly and therefore might in some people produce allergic reactions (regulators guessed there was a "medium" risk here). Thisdecision not to approve StarLink for human food showed admirable precaution, but it was a mistake to then go ahead and approve planting of StarLink for feed use, since it would only be a matter of time before some would leak into food channels.
Yet even when this leakage took place, triggering sensational mediareports and a costly recall (plus lost sales to Japan), evidence of actual harm to human health was still missing.Following stories in the media about taco shells contaminated with StarLink, several dozen U.S. citizens did come forward complaining that they had indeed suffered allergic reactions.But when our federal government conducted tests using blood samples from those who complained, no allergenic antibodies were found.And in the food samples provided as evidence by those who complained, no StarLink wasfound. So the leakage was apparently small enough to present no real danger, but by the time this was known the damage to everyone's reputation had alreadybeen done.
We are now learning that the risk to Monarch butterflies from Bt cornpollen is also apparently negligible.Two years ago the New York Times gave front-page attention to the fact that it was possible, in a laboratory, to use Bt corn pollen to kill Monarch caterpillars.The authors of that original Cornell University experiment cautioned that inferences shouldnot be drawn about what Bt pollen was doing to caterpillars in the field, but GM crop critics drew such inferences anyway.Now the EPA has gathered enough data from actual field tests in Maryland, Minnesota, and Iowa to estimated that only one in 100,000 Monarch caterpillars is ever likely to beaffected at all by Bt corn pollen.But this report is unlikely to get front-page coverage, and in any case it is two years too late to repair the damage. Since future consumer acceptance of GM crops in Europe and Japan - andeven in the United States - could depend more on media-hyped perceptions ofrisk than on actual evidence of risk, the advocates of GM crops (especiallyfood crops) will be fighting a long difficult battle.What would the worldlook like if this battle were lost?What if farmers in the United Statesjoined their counterparts in Europe and Japan and simply gave up on the planting GM crops?
If U.S. farmers all stopped growing GM corn and soybeans this would be turning back the clock - but not very far, only back to 1994.U.S.farmers would still be prosperous and U.S. consumers would be well fed.It would certainly be bad for the biotech industry and for Monsanto’s shareholders, otherwise here in the United States few would notice.Farm productioncosts might go up slightly, and the spraying of more toxic and persistent herbicides and insecticides would increase a bit, but that might be seenby U.S. agriculture as less costly than paying for the redundant storage and handling infrastructures, and dealing with all of the governmentinspectors and lawyers that might be needed to operate a fully segregated andtraceable marketing system for GM versus non-GM crops, in order to retain access to markets abroad.
Turning back the clock to 1994 might for some be a tempting escape,but I certainly hope that isn't the final policy outcome.Farmers and consumers in rich countries could live with this outcome, but farmers and consumers in poor countries could not. If I am a farmer in Kenya, trying to produce corn to feed my family, I might need Bt corn to help me fight against stem borer infestations.If I am a woman in Niger trying to produce cowpeas, I might need a GM cowpea variety to help me fight against pod borers or weevils.If I am a poor farmer with 5 hectares of land in India trying to grow cotton, I might need a GM cotton variety to help me fight against bollworms.And in the future, assuming adequate research investments,poor farmers in semi-arid lands might even get access to salt tolerant ordrought tolerant GM crops.Just last month a researcher at UC Davis announced the engineering of a salt-tolerant tomato, able to grow in soils 50 percent saltier than normal.For those interested in solving food production problems in poor countries, this is suggestive of what GM technologiesmight be able to do in the years ahead.
Critics of GM crops in rich countries need to pause before they wrongly stigmatize these crops.If today's rich countries decide to stop or turn back the clock, they will still be rich.But if we stop the clock for the poor and the hungry, they will still be poor and hungry.