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A 400 billion dollar gamble to Dominate World Food Production
Guardian Weekly 21 Dec 97
John Vidal and Mark Minor

Six giant agrochemical corporations are poised to dominate world food production with genetically engineered food. The result could be millions of farmers unemployed, poor countries losing whole export markets, a consumer revolt in Europe, and concentration of farming in fewer hands. The scale and speed of the food revolution gathering pace in the .United States is surprising governments, industry and analysts. The companies claim that more than 30 million acres of genetically engineered crops have been planted this year, more than three times as many as in 1996 and 10 times the acreage of 1995. 'The market is expected to double again next year," said a spokesman for Monsanto, the chemical and biotechnology firm. In Britain, trial crops bave been grown for several years and the first commercial releases of genetically engineered seeds are expected to be approved by the European Union early next year. The $8 billion investment led by US-based Monsanto, with international conglomerates Novartis, Agro-Evo, Dupont, Zeneca and Dow behind it, raises questions of corporate influence on governments. The drive to push genetic engineering has involved heavy lobbying of trade organisations, regulatory bodies, law-makers, the media and consumers. The companies claim that the new technologies are environmentally friendly and will lead to health benefits, an end to world hunger, and reduced use of pesficides. There's no crop or person that cannot benefit 'There's a tide of history turning. You can look back, or ask how you're going to feed the world,' Monsanto said.

However, international consumer groups advise caution and say that scientific, ethical and social concerns are being swept aside. "Scientists and industry are making decisions on behalf of consumers with minimal public debate' said Julie Shepherd of the Consuners Association. "This will add to hunger," said Professor Vandana Shiva, director of the Science and Technology research institute in Delhi. 'Millions of small farmers without access to the tecnologies or to global markets will be unable to compete.' In an analysis of the changes taking place in the global food industry, the Guardian has found:

  1. A revolving door between the US government and the biotech industry;
  2. Heavy lobbying to rewrite world food safety standards in favour of biotechnology;
  3. New laws protecting the US food industry from criticism;
  4. Unexpected environmental problems;
  5. Legal contracts locking farmers into, corporate control of production;
  6. Attempts by the world's leading PR firms to massage debate - in favour of genetic engineering;
  7. The use of world organizations to challenge governments opposing genetically modified crops.
  8. Consumers being given no effective choice of foods;
  9. Fears that the economies of developing countries will be adversely affected.

The revolution is based on simple gene manipulation that modifies seeds to resist herbicides patented by the same companies. In a few years it is expected to move into hitherto unimaginable foods. Behind the vision of more pro- ductive crops needing fewer pesticides, a fierce battle is being fought over food production. 'The prize for the US-dominated industry is a $400 billion-a-year global market. Their combined power to dominate world markets is awesome," a LTN economist said. "The train has already left the station. It is practically unstoppable now." Biotechnology will enable the US to dominate markets further and a stimulate its economy. The UNs International labour Organization predicts that the food revolution will be established globally within 10 years, with enormous consequences. Agriculture represents 65% of the global economy. The UN's Food and Agriculture organisation expects great social and economic changes. 'It is not possible to hope that there will be job creation with the new technologies a spokesman said. 'It will fundamentally affect farming everywhere and play a large part in the of the poorest'

'The McKinsey Business report says: -The world is about to witness a revolution. The science is now in the hands of large well-funded agricultural, chemical and pharmacetical giants which are poised to move from a handful products on the market today to a menu in five years' time. Biotechnology is revolutionising the chain." 'This week senior players in the British food industry expressed new concerns for genetically modified foods. A spokesman for the Consumers Association said: 'It is assumed that new foods are adeqately controlled. But legislation in is area has come late and is inade- uate to address all consumer concerns." There are only two products on British supermarket shelves obviusly produced by genetic modification - tomato puree sold by and Sainsbury's, and Co-op vegetable cheese. Both are suitably labelled. The Consumers Association says a wide range of foods, including soya products, contains genetically modified ingredients, these are unidenfiable because of mixing. Resistance to genetically modified foods is growing in Europe and developing countries uniting consumer and environmental groups. Trial crops are bieng sabotaged.How Monsanto Succeeded Monblat, John Harvey, Mark Milner and John Vidal

MONSANTO, the company leading the global push to genetically engineered foods, received an unusual letter last month. Julie Draycott, from the Isle of wight, wrote to its headquarters in St Louis, Missouri, demanding $10,200 compensation for the time, trouble and money she claims Monsanto costs her every year. Sixty per cent of all processed foods contain soya, and Monsanto's beans for up to 25 per cent of the United States crop, which is largely exported. Ms Dmycott argued that as the company insists its genetically manipulated soya beans cannot be separated from ordinary beans, to avoid eating genetically engineered soya, she must spend more time and money shopping and preparing food from raw ingredients. Ms Dmycott is still awaiting a reply and her life is set to get harder. Monsanto, dubbed the Microsoft of biotechnology, has a global vision that embraces all the world's main crops. Backed by patents lasting 20 years, and starting with soya, it has moved quickly into genetically modified cotton, oilseed, rape and corn. Almost every, other major crop is in its sights.

The speed and scale of Monsanto's,push for new-tech foods is awesome., over. two years, the biggest herbicide producer in the world has spent 2.5 billion to consiolidate its position as the leading biotech company. Last year it spent $730 million on biotech research. Monsanto is the darling of Wall Street. In three years its share price has soared from $11.50 to a high of more than $45 this past month. The company's business genius lies not just in acquisition but in ensuring that its most lucrative chemical products reap rewards far into the future. The key to Monsanto's operation has been its most successful herbicide, glyphosphate, sold under the name Roundup. Its patent runs out in 2000, however, allowing competitors to make the product. So for 10 years it has been developing a range of new crops, genetically engineered to resist glyphosphate One legal condition of the purchase of genetically modified seeds is that the crops are treated only with Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. spraying them with Roundup does them no harm, but destroys weeds around them. New patent legislation in Europe and the US, pushed by Monsanto and other biotech firms with backing from the US and British governments, allows Monsanto to secure exclusive nghts to their production and collect 'technology fees'. Monsanto says these new patented crops help growers and are environmentally friendly, because they reduce the amount of weedkillers and pesticides needed. Some scientists, environmentalists and farmers dispute this. In January, the New York attorney generals office forced Monsanto to withdraw advertisements claiming that Roundup is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. According to the school of Public health at the University of California, glyposphate is the third most commonly reported cause of pesticide illness among farm workers. But Monsanto's pesticides and genetically modified crops are not their only products attracting controversy. In September, the World Trade organisation ruled that the European Union would have to lift its ban on,imports of beef and milk from cattle treated with Posilac, the growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto. The WTO's decision is deeply unpopular in Europe, not only among Eurocrats, consumer and animal welfare groups. Farmers argue that to compete with big American producers, they, too, will have to use posilac. Scientists funded by Monsanto reported that cows treated with the hormone suffered only a minor increase in udder infections. But when the results were examined by independent researchers they found that only part of the data had been processed. A complete analysis revealed that white cells (or pus) increased by 21, per cent in the udders of some cows treated with Posilac. Monsanto's growing domination of the food chain and the implications for health, the environment, competition and accountability are increasingly controversial. Pioneer, the worlds leading maize seed supplier, last month concluded after. two years talks, with Monsanto that the company is seeking to dominate the technology available to farmenrs with its glyphosate-resistant crops. Weve gone from nothing to 19 million acres in two years" a Monsantio executive says "Next year well double again". Were in Japan, China, Africa and South America. Biotech is ultimately democratic. It doesnt involve the farmer in capital goods. If You can compete with the world it's great. It's called free enterprise."