Biotech Boasting: Are Frankenfoods Conquering The World?

In January, a biotech industry front group, International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), announced, with
great fanfare, that global acreage of genetically engineered (GE)
crops had increased 19% in 2001. According to ISAAA, 5.5 million
farmers last year planted 130 million acres (52.6 million hectares) of
GE crops, a 30-fold increase since 1996. For the year 2000, ISAAA had
reported a somewhat smaller 11% growth in GE acreage. Cheerleaders
for Frankenfoods, including Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau,
hailed ISAAA's most recent projections as "proof" that the Biotech
Century was going forward, despite widespread opposition in Europe and
Asia, and increased rumblings of discontent among North American
consumers and farmers.

Although most of the corporate media dutifully regurgitated ISAAA's
press release on the "progress" of agbiotech, a closer more critical
look at the evidence reveals a somewhat different story. First of
all, ISAAA estimates on crop acreage are based on interviews with
"true believers," farmers who are growing GE crops. Secondly, ISAAA
gets its funds from corporations such as Monsanto, Aventis, and
Pioneer (Dupont). In addition, previous assertions made by the group'
s spokesman, Clive James have subsequently been proven false. For
example, James claimed that 1998 plantings of GE soybeans resulted in
a 12% yield increase, when in fact yields fell 6-12%.

Finally, even assuming ISAAA's estimates are correct, BioDemocracy
News believes they are inflated); biotech industry trends themselves
tell a different story. For example: global GE crop acreage grew over
thirty-fold in 1996; 675% in 1997; 255% in 1998; and 143% in 1999. In
comparison, puny 11%-18% growth rates in 2000 and 2001 indicate a
sharp leveling off in demand for GE seeds worldwide, rather than an
increase–obviously a reaction to the growing global opposition
against Frankenfoods. ISAAA boasts that 5.5 million farmers around
the world are now growing GE crops (another questionable figure) but
forgets to mention that there are 2.4 billion farmers and rural
villagers who are not growing GE crops.

Despite industry rhetoric, very few countries are willing to ignore
public opposition and allow the commercial cultivation of GE soybeans,
corn, cotton, or canola, the only four crops currently being grown on
any significant scale. While farmers in 130 nations are currently
producing certified organic crops, a grand total of three nations,
(the US-with 68% of the world's GE crops, Canada-6%, and
Argentina-22%) are still producing 96% of the world's Frankencrops.
Several highly touted GE crops, the Flavr Savr tomato and Monsanto's
Bt potato, have already been taken off the market. Moreover the US,
Canada, and Argentina are finding that that their major overseas
customers such as Europe, Japan, and South Korea no longer want to buy
GE crops, even for animal feed. In Europe, the largest agricultural
market in the world, grassroots market pressure has forced all of the
major supermarket chains and food companies to remove GE ingredients
from their consumer products. Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, no
new GE crops have been approved for commercialization in the EU since
1998.

Syngenta (formerly Novartis), the largest biotech company in the
world, has removed all GE ingredients from its consumer food products.
Because of increasing marketplace pressure, 25% of all animal feed in
the EU is already GE-free. In a recent poll 80% of British consumers
said they would avoid purchasing meat or dairy products from animals
fed GE feed. Even China, which was supposed to be the Promised Land
for agbiotech, has been reluctant to embrace Frankencrops (other than
Bt cotton), sensing that the real future for their agricultural
exports to Asia and the EU will be non-GE and organic crops.

Agbiotech industry propaganda about feeding the world through
increased productivity is no longer credible. As Amory and Hunter
Lovins, founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute, point out:
"Genetically engineered crops were created not because they are
productive but because they're patentable. Their economic value is
oriented not toward helping subsistence farmers to feed themselves but
toward feeding more livestock for the already overfed rich." Currently
63% of the world's GE crops are soybeans, used primarily for animal
feed. Corn, again mainly for animal feed, makes up 19% of all GE
crops, while rapeseed, used for animal feed and cooking oil, makes up
5%. Even cotton, which constitutes 13% of all GE crops, provides feed
for cattle, in the form of cottonseed and cotton gin trash.

A look at ISAAA's figures for 2001 and 2000 reveal that most of the
growth in global GE acreage in 2001 resulted from increased
cultivation of Monsanto's flagship GE product, herbicide-resistant
Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, by farmers in Argentina (where Monsanto
is selling RR seeds at bargain basement prices, trying to boost sales)
and the US (where farmers have to grow more and more soybeans in order
to obtain government subsidies and to make up for record low prices of
soybeans on the world market). One might ask why US farmers are
buying so many RR soybeans, since they cost more (US soy farmers have
complained about Monsanto selling RR beans at a much lower price in
Argentina) and since RR varieties actually produce a 6-12% lower yield
as documented by Dr. Charles Benbrook and others.

The answer to the riddle of why US farmers and their counterparts in
Argentina are planting so many RR soybeans does not bode well for the
future of GE crops. In Argentina, Monsanto's seeds are the cheapest
seeds available. If Monsanto sold RR seeds worldwide at such low
prices they would lose much of their profitability as a company. In
Latin America, Monsanto and their allies (Cargill and Archer Daniels
Midland) are desperate to develop a major market for RR soybeans,
since Argentina's next door neighbor, Brazil, now the largest producer
of soybeans in the world, has a ban on GE soybeans and has taken over
the major US overseas soybean markets in the EU, Japan, and Korea,
where anti-GE sentiments are strong.

Government Subsidies–Why US Farmers Plant GE Crops

American farmers are planting millions of acres of RR soybeans and
other GE crops, not because there is a market demand for them, but
because they are receiving taxpayer subsidies from the US government.
Although gene-altered RR seeds and Roundup herbicide are expensive,
herbicide-resistant soybeans are more convenient and less
time-consuming to grow than traditional varieties-enabling farmers to
plant, weed, and harvest more and more acres in a limited amount of
time. Instead of having to till weeds with their tractors and spray
several different toxic pesticides, farmers need only spray Monsanto's
potent broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which kills everything
green-except for the GE soybean plants. Especially for cash and
time-strapped farmers earning most of their money from off-farm
employment (US family farmers get about 90% of their net income from
jobs off the farm), this "efficiency" makes RR soybeans seem
attractive.

Far more important is the fact that in the US, the more acres a farmer
plants in soybeans (or other subsidized crops like corn or cotton),
the more money the farmer gets from the government farm subsidy
program, which last year paid out $28 billion. Of this $28 billion in
farm subsidies, at least $7-10 billion went to farmers growing GE
crops. Thus even though Cargill or ADM routinely rob farmers by
paying them less for a bushel of RR soybeans or Bt corn than it took
to grow them, farmers can count on recouping their losses with a
subsidy payment from the USDA.

The fundamental flaw, from an economic standpoint, of US farmers
ignoring global opposition to Frankenfoods and planting more and more
GE soybeans so as to collect more and more subsidy payments from the
government, is that there is already a huge global surplus of
soybeans, not to mention corn and cotton. This massive surplus is
quite profitable for the crop commodities giants like Cargill and ADM,
cotton buyers, and the big factory farm cattle feedlots and hog farms,
who can count on getting cheap grain and fiber from farmers desperate
to sell at any price, but it's nothing less than a recipe for disaster
for rural America. Billion dollar subsidies are the driving force for
GE soybeans and corn, but they are also the major destructive force
flooding the market and lowering the price for soybeans paid to the
farmers. This ever-declining price results in farmers planting even
more soybeans or corn. The end result of this process will likely be
the elimination of most small and medium sized farms in the US who
depend upon subsidies (with the notable exception of organic farms,
which are selling products which consumers want). Organic farmers
currently receive no US government subsidies whatsoever.

A major nightmare for the US grain and cotton farmers (including those
growing GE crops) who are surviving on taxpayer subsidies is that
government support may soon be declining. Bush administration
officials, hell-bent on subsidizing the military-industrial complex to
the tune of $380 billion a year and cutting taxes for large
corporations and the wealthy, have recently warned agribusiness
lobbyists that crop subsidies may decline over the next few years.
This could be bad news indeed for non-organic farmers, but also bad
news for Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer, and the other Gene Giants.
Without $7-10 billion a year in government crop subsidies paid out to
US farmers growing GE crops, we're likely to see a significant
decline, rather than an increase, in GE acreage next year. For
updates on the growing global opposition to GE foods and crops click
on the Daily News section of the OCA's website.

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