In Your Face

Robert B. Shapiro, the chairman of the board and CEO of the Monsanto Corp. was recently given a taste of tofu cream pie--well, maybe more than a taste--as he was hit in the face with the pie after giving the keynote address at the "State of the World Forum" conference in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, California.

The incident occurred after Shapiro's address on the brave new world of genetic engineering and was instigated by the "Anti-Genetix" splinter faction of the Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB) code-named "Operation Safe Harvest." The BBB is aligned with Belgian pieman Noel Godin's International Patisserie Brigade, who are responsible for pieing Bill Gates and many other deserving targets.

"The Biotic Baking Brigade doesn't just promise pie in the sky, we deliver," said a BBB operative named Apple, who served as Special Agent-in-Charge of this operation. The pie incident was the second BBB offensive this month. Nobel Laureate neoliberal economist Milton Friedman suffered the same fate as Shapiro on October 9, 1998, at the Marriot Hotel in San Francisco, during the "School Choice and Corporate America" conference.

After Shapiro gave his speech and left the stage, he stopped to engage in a dialogue with a heckler on genetic engineering and corporate crime. It was at this point that BBB Field Agents Custard and Lemon Meringue approached him and let fly with tofu cream and sweet potato pies, the first of which reached its target. Custard and Lemon Meringue were detained by security and arrested by San Francisco Police.

The vegan tofu cream pie symbolized the millions of acres of Monsanto's genetically-engineered soybean crops and other "Frankenfoods" coming to harvest this season. The sweet potato pie was tossed in recognition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story, "Playing God in the Garden" by Michael Pollan (October 25), which detailed the fraud, deception, and legacy of poison Monsanto has given the world, using the genetically-engineered "New Leaf Russet Burbank Potato" as an example.

Monsanto's Man In The White House

Outraged members of the British Parliament and many of the country's environmentalists have accused President Bill Clinton of intruding in a sensitive domestic matter. "It is quite wrong for the British Prime Minister to be conspiring behind the back of the British public about American business interests," said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman.

What has the British so angry is the report that Clinton personally intervened with his British political clone Prime Minister Tony Blair to stop Britain from halting the controversial production of genetically engineered foods. Clinton reportedly telephoned Blair during the summer and discussed the matter during his visit to Number 10 in May to try to persuade Blair that genetically modified (GM) crops--worth millions of dollars to the US economy--would not be bad for Britain.

Consumer and environmental groups including English Nature, the British Government's official wildlife adviser, want the Government to introduce a moratorium on growing such crops commercially in the UK for at least three years until more is known about their effects on the environment.

The first commercial GM crop, rapeseed oil, is set to be sown in Britain next year, following Government approval. Meanwhile, hundreds of acres of trial crops have already been planted throughout Great Britain.

It is no accident that Clinton, who has served as a "blank check" for corporate America during his six years in office, should be promoting genetically modified crops for the primary U.S. manufacturer of such crops is the Monsanto Corp. The company, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, has been one of five companies spearheading Clinton's welfare-to-work programs, and which the President singled out for praise during his State of the Union address in 1997.

During the 1996 election, London's Independent On Sunday reports, Monsanto was among those donating thousands of dollars in "soft money" (legal funds which are not included in the ban on corporate donations) to the Clinton campaign. Federal Election Commission reports indicate Monsanto contributed $18,710 to the Democrats in the 1997-98 election cycle and since January 1, 1995 its board of directors alone has contributed nearly $110,000 in political contributions to both American political parties.

In addition, currently sitting on Monsanto's board of directors is former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Trade Representative and National Chairman for the 1992 Clinton Gore Campaign--Mickey Kantor

Terminating 'Terminator'

"The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) will not incorporate into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed germination. This is in recognition of (a) concerns over potential risks of its inadvertent or unintended spread through pollen; (b) the possibilities of sale or exchange of inviable seed for planting; (c) the importance of farm-saved seed, particularly to resource-poor farmers; (d) potential negative impacts on genetic diversity and (e) the importance of farmer selection and breeding for sustainable agriculture."

With that statement the Terminator--and related genetic seed sterilization technology--has been banned from the crop breeding programs of the world's largest international agricultural research network. The strong and unambiguous policy was adopted by CGIAR at a meeting at the World Bank in Washington on October 30th.

"It's a courageous decision. The CGIAR has done the right thing, for the right reasons," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of Rural Advance-ment Foundation International (RAFI). "A ban on Terminator is a pro-farmer policy in defense of world food security."

The CGIAR is a global network of 16 international agricultural research centers, which collectively form the world's largest public plant breeding effort for resource-poor farmers. The Terminator genetic engineering technique renders farm-saved seed sterile, forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The technology is aimed primarily at seed markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seed and on-farm plant breeding. If widely adopted, the Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seed and breed their own crops.

Since the Terminator was developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land, a Monsanto subsidiary, Mooney says the policy is "a slap in the face to the U.S. Government--a major CGIAR funder--and to Monsanto because it soundly negates their claims that sterilizing seeds will boost plant breeding in marginal areas and help feed the hungry." Mooney adds, "The defenders of biotechnology's suicide seeds are certainly powerful; but they must be feeling pretty lonely."

Adoption of the CGIAR policy to ban Terminator was uncharacteristically swift, with barely a whiff of resistance from member states and donors attending the annual meeting. Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the chair of CGIAR's Genetic Resources Policy Committee and World Food Prize recipient, presented the anti-Terminator proposal to all the delegates at the meeting in its final hours, making a passionate plea for acceptance of the policy.

In the ensuing discussion, numerous delegates from the South and the North alike endorsed the ban on Terminator. The Ugandan delegate said that the Terminator was a concern at the highest political level in his country.

There was a deafening silence from embarrassed U.S. government officials, who were expected to vehemently defend the technology on behalf of Monsanto and the multinational seed industry. The silence has lent credence to rumors circulating at the meeting and on the internet that the USDA is getting cold feet about the Terminator.

Expected to be applicable to wheat, cotton, soybeans and other crops, the new technology is jointly owned by the USDA and Delta and Pine, which is based in Mississippi. If given exclusive rights, Delta and Pine and Monsanto executives have indicated, they will apply for patents in 87 countries. Monsanto and the Department of Agriculture say the benefits of the new technology outweigh farmers' other concerns.

"Loss of cost savings from 'brown-bagging' must be weighed against the productivity gains to the farmer from having superior new varieties that could increase crop values such as yield and quality ... and reduce losses such as those due to pest or adverse soil and weather," says the USDA in a statement released the week prior to CGIAR condemnation.

"If true, the [USDA shift] policy would be welcomed," says RAFI Research Director Hope Shand, "but it would not put the controversy to rest. Opponents of Terminator would question why USDA would admit that the technology is unacceptable for release to U.S. farmers, while on the other hand surrender the patent rights to Monsanto for commercial development. How could the technology be bad for U.S. farmers and good for farmers in the rest of the world?"

E.-coli and IBP

IBP, the world's largest processor of fresh beef, said it has voluntarily recalled the 556,226 pounds of ground beef produced at its Dakota City, Nebraska, plant on October 22 due to the fact that a sample might have contained the deadly bacteria E. coli 0157:H7.

Much of the shipment to 33 states may have already been consumed, but the company said its officials knew of no illnesses associated with the beef produced on that day. Most of the ground beef is processed by grocers and restaurants before being eaten, so there is no brand name, product code or production lot numbers for consumers to check.

The recall is the second this year by IBP, which is based in Dakota City. In April it recalled more than 282,000 pounds of ground beef after a single package produced at a plant in Joslin, Illinois, contained the virulent strain of E. coli bacteria.

After an outbreak of illnesses in the summer of 1997 that apparently were caused by e-coli that was traced to tainted ground beef processed by Hudson Foods at its Columbus, Nebraska, plant, Hudson sold its then-closed facility to IBP. The plant in turn was bought by Tyson Foods, the nation's largest poultry producer.

IBP had supplied beef to Hudson's Columbus plant, which Hudson then processed into its products. "There is no indication from either the USDA or Hudson that our product was involved" in the suspected tainted-patty recall, an IBP spokesman said at the time.

In 1997, South Korea discovered e-coli in a shipment of IBP beef and IBP was banned by South Korea from shipping meat to that country; the U.S.'s third largest beef export account.

Cattle Producers: Taking Back Their Markets

A "boycott" in the meat industry has once again put the focus on the desperate situation hundreds of independent cattle producers face today.

Recently, the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC) called on Wyoming's cattle producers to support the captive sale boycott conducted by cattle feedlots in Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. The boycott is an attempt to restore a healthy cash market for fat cattle and reduce the use of captive supplies, which the packers have used to control supply and put downward pressure on the market.

The feedlots that are participating are refusing to sell cattle that don't have a price set before they leave the feedlot or to commit a sale to the packer more than seven days prior to slaughter. "We applaud the feedlots for taking this stand," said rancher and PRBRC Board Member Skip Waters, "A competitive cash market is absolutely essential for a healthy cattle industry."

PRBRC is calling on producers to use only feeders that participate in the boycott. "If you retain ownership of your calves, insist that your feeder participate," said rancher and PRBRC Agriculture Committee Chair Liza Millett, "Otherwise tell them you can find another feedlot that will. We all need to work together to bring back a competitive market," she concluded.

PRBRC is also asking Wyoming feeders, and Wyoming's agricultural organizations, to join in the boycott. "A clear message needs to be sent from all of the states that we are taking back our markets," said Waters.

The PRBRC, is also affiliated with the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) which has been pressing for the USDA to pass a rule that would reduce captive supplies by:

1) Prohibiting packers from procuring cattle for slaughter through the use of a forward contract, unless the contract contains a firm base price that can be equated to a fixed dollar amount on the day the contract is signed, and the forward contract is offered or bid in an open public manner.

2) Prohibiting packers from owning and feeding cattle, unless the cattle are sold for slaughter in an open, public market.

Currently the proposal is stalled in the USDA bureaucracy after receiving more than 1,700 comments in favor of the proposal a year and a half ago. "The feeders recognize the harm that captive supplies have done to the cattle industry, and are working to fix the problem" said Millett."USDA still wants to claim there is no problem," she concluded.

Cargill Grain Grab

As this went to press, Cargill, the nation's largest private corporation and one of the top three grain trading companies in the world with $51.4 billion in revenues last year, was planning to buy the grain assets of Continental Grain, the fifth largest private company in the United States with $16 billion in revenue last year. With the acquisition, our best guestimate is that Cargill and ADM will control nearly 80% of the world's grain trade. One can only speculate what such a behemoth holds in store for American farmers, particularly when grain farmers suffering from sliding prices and shrinking markets have complained to the Justice Department that Cargill acted to "manipulate" the nation's soybean market price "dramatically lower" in the summer of 1997.

A.V. Krebs is editor/publisher of The AgBiz Tiller, online at (

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