|ecoglobe news (5 July 1999)|
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[Farmers Weekly (Jul 2-Jul 8 1999)]
This is from the UK's premier farming magazine Farmers Weekly (Jul 2-Jul
8 1999) which also reports in the same issue the results of its readers'
survey on GM crops: 43% anti, 18% unsure, 39% pro. Among other findings
59% said current regulation of GMOs was inadequate, 62% said GM
companies too pushy, 65% critical of UK government, and 42% said
National Farmers Union (NFU) too pro-GM. One farmer's comment that was
picked out was: "We must fit farming to our customers. Thanks to the NFU
we have a public relations disaster."
..................................................................... Farmers Weekly: Tide begins to turn in US against GM crops European resistance to GM crops, once scorned by the US farming establishment, has now become a force to be reckoned with. Some processors are even paying a premium for non-GM soyabeans, explains Illinois-based agriculturai commentator, Alan Guebert
THE global fight over acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMs) in food, to quote one loquacious commentator, only gets weirder and weirder. Witness recent events on the American biotech battlefront.
In a face-to-face meeting with Monsanto boss Robert Shapiro, US secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman reportedly suggested that US agriculture would be better served if Mr Shapiro stopped talking about biotech foods because every time he opened his mouth US farmers lost millions more bushels of ag exports.
Although Congress has no plans to give President Bill Clinton fasttrack trade authority this year, multi-level trade talks continue and are now aimed at getting a deal which would not require congressional approval. This back door approach, says one American critic is being pushed by biotech multinational companies with the assistance of the US trade representative's office and the US department of agriculture.
The above-mentioned strategy, however, was stung when European officials challenged US negotiators' claim that American consumers have adopted biotech food lock, stock and never-rotting tomato. "The Europeans basically jammed that idea down the US negotiators' throats" during April talks in Paris and Brussels, explains an American witness. The Americans quickly confessed their exaggeration and scampered home.
All this American and corporate bullying has left US farmers squarely in the messy middle. They continue to adopt GM technology rapidly — an estimated 40% of 1999 US maize acres and 30% of US soyabean acres will be planted with GM seeds — even as foreign concerns over biotech foods now cut into American ag exports and US farm prices. How did this happen? In the usual way, say sources who have watched global food talks since the mid-1990s. Big companies with billions invested in GM research and business deals used governments to push the techno-agenda and hinder go slow advocates.
This strategy is explained in detail in the May 1999 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French foreign affairs journal. In a blistering attack on the current bilateral trade talks between the EU and US, author Christian De Brie documents how "capital"—big money corporations —are driving the world trade and biotech debate.
"The war being prosecuted," writes Mr De Brie, "with the support of their governments, by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic for the conquest and domination of world markets is becoming increasingly brutal and has no regard for laws. "
"Talks conducted behind closed doors without democratic control aim, for a hastily-signed final agreement (that hopes) to hand over all human activities to capital, without let or hindrance, thereby stripping the KU, member governments and local authorities of their ability to pursue their own policies, be they economic, social, cultural or environmental."
And, Mr De Brie notes, it's often done through easily agreed-upon, mostly benign words or phrases like "transparency, deregulation, liberalisation, openmg of markets, (and) good governance" which are, in fact, "only matters for countries and their citizens, never for large corporations."
But Niel Ritchie, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, says cracks are appearing in the big company-big government alliance to push biotech food around the globe.
"When it comes to food and GMs, even the free trade hawks in Europe are deeply divided," Mr Ritchie offers, "yet US officials and the multinationals keep pounding them. The beef hormone issue brought this difference to a head and the Europeans decided they've had just about enough of the multinationals."
Thus the EU's anti-US blast last month in Paris and Brussels. American farmers are getting the message, too. Giant ag processors Archer Daniels Midland and AE Staley recently warned US farmers they would not purchase US-grown biotech maize varieties not yet approved by the European Union. And, as if to drive home the point to rock-headed biotech boosters, in early May ADM announced it would pay a $5.50 (3.40 pounds)/t premium to farmers for non-GM soyabeans.
The news rocked US farm circles, and many farmers scurried to return GM maize seed to distributors prior to early spring planting. Some seed dealers estimate as much as 20% of the GM maize seed was returned. This new - and still small - attitude change recently got support from a most unlikely source — the American business insurance industry. In the May 6 issue of Post, an insurance magazine, an underwriting manager for insuran ce giant Cigna International suggested business insurers go slow on policies which cover GM-selling companies. "Our experience with asbestos, PCBs and other "miracle" products in the past should have warned us of the potential dangers of diving into issues before we have an adequate awareness of the exposures," wrote Cigna of ficial Maurice Pullen. "Prudence is, after all," he notes, "meant to be the underscoring principle of insurance underwriting."
This year of punishing low commodity prices, increased production and drooping grain exports might bring American farmers to that simple, unavoidable conclusion, also. Besides, as one American farmer asked in late May, "Isn't the customer always right?"
People make the difference.
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