MAI Protests Accelerate

Organizers of a national call-in against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments were pleased with the response that flooded the telephones of Senate offices and the U.S. Trade Representative on Feb. 10. "Some Senate offices reported just tallying the number of calls they were getting so many," said Ruth Caplan of the Alliance for Democracy, co-chair of the campaign against MAI, which would allow foreign investors to sue to overturn local, state and national government acts that interfered with their ability to make profits. "You can imagine their surprise when many of the Senate offices still hadn't heard of the MAI!" Caplan added.

MAI critics played down the significance of an announcement that the nations negotiating MAI would not be able to sign a final agreement in April, as originally planned. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky confirmed to reporters that the U.S. government would not sign the final agreement in April, but she would not elaborate. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, in a report to anti-MAI activists, cautioned that this is a standard negotiating procedure: The negotiating countries still plan to lock down the provisions on which there is consensus and follow up with negotiations on outstanding issues.

"Anyone who was around during the NAFTA or GATT Uruguay Round negotiations is very familiar with this dance," Wallach wrote. "The U.S. government announces that there is a disaster and they cannot finish the negotiations. They want the opponents to lay off, the business guys to pile in the pressure and the other governments to offer better deals at the negotiating table."

The plan is to eventually submit the agreement to the Senate as a treaty, bypassing the House of Representatives. Call your senator toll-free at 1-800-522-6721 to express your opinion on whether the U.S. government should give up its sovereignty to transnational corporations. And while you're at it, call your U.S. Representative and make sure he or she does not vote for "Fast Track" review of future trade deals.

NFU Urges Action
for Small Farms

National Farmers Union (NFU) is urging the Clinton Administration and Congress to enact the recommendations made by the National Small Farms Commission -- many of which include programs or policies which increase competitiveness in agricultural markets.

"Farmers and ranchers are told to produce for the market, yet there is very little semblance of a free enterprise system in today's economy. This commission felt strongly that the only way of sustaining family farm and ranch agriculture is to give producers more marketing options by increasing marketplace competitiveness," said Kathleen Kelley, a Meeker, Colo., rancher who was vice co-chair of the commission.

Kelley, who also serves as vice president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union notes that the farmers' share of the consumer food dollar has dropped from 37 percent in 1980 to 23 percent today. "Neither consumer nor producer benefit from lower commodity prices," Kelley said.

"Time is running out for family farmers and ranchers under the current structure which encourages largeness at all costs," Kelley said. The best way to assure a stable, quality food supply in this country is to put in place policies which will sustain and strengthen the U.S. family farm and ranch system of agriculture."

The commission report defines a small farm as those with "less than $250,000 annually in gross receipts on which day-to-day labor and management are provided by the farmer and/or the farm family that owns the production or owns, or leases, the productive assets."

Biotech Setback

In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under heavy pressure from public interest organizations and environmentalists, revoked the permit for cotton farmers to spray RhonePoulenc's toxic herbicide bromoxynil, which has been shown to kill fish and cause birth defects in mammals. This means that cotton farmers are unlikely to be buying any more of RhonePoulenc's genetically engineered, bromoxynil-resistant cotton seeds. Another ag biotech miracle product bites the dust. (From the Pure Food Campaign.)

* On Jan. 14 Monsanto threatened to stop selling recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) in the state of Vermont if mandatory licensing provisions are implemented by the state. In a Jan. 7 letter to members of the Vermont dairy industry Monsanto said pending state legislation would "severely disrupt previously private business activity; and it would do so in the absence of any legitimate state interest sufficient to justify the intrusion into your privacy."

* The Vermont rBGH disclosure bill calls for any supplier of rBGH who sells or distributes the controversial genetically engineered hormone to be licensed by the state. Suppliers would be required to maintain records of purchasers' names and other information. This would enable retailers and consumers to determine which of Vermont's milk and dairy products were gene-altered. Despite strenuous efforts by Monsanto, who have invested almost a billion dollars in the drug, to prevent labeling and intimidate anti-rBGH farmers, processors and retailers rBGH has failed miserably in the U.S. marketplace. Only approximately 4 percent of U.S. dairy cows are currently being injected with the drug.

* In a related development, the World Health Organization, meeting in Rome Feb. 17-26 was expected to continue withholding approval for Monsanto's rBGH on human safety grounds. Mounting evidence presented to the WHO indicates that significantly higher levels of human growth hormone factor IGF-1 in rBGH-derived milk and dairy elevates the risks for human breast and colon cancer and may expose dairy cows to greater risks for coming down with Mad Cow disease. The United States is so far the only industrialized country in the world to have approved the controversial drug for commercialization. Although rBGH is banned in Europe, the U.S. currently exports $30 million a year in dairy products to the EU, the majority of which are not certified as being rBGH-free.

* The DNA Plant Technology Corporation of Oakland, California, a major biotechnology company (producer of the now defunct gene-altered "Endless Summer" tomato), was indicted in U.S. Federal District Court on January 7 for criminal conspiracy in exporting high-nicotine, highly addictive, genetically engineered tobacco to Brazil. After covertly growing the tobacco in Brazil, five million pounds of the super-potent Y-1 tobacco were reimported back to the U.S. and inserted in five major brands of cigarettes. The transnational cigarette giant, Brown & Williamson, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. The U.S. Justice department alleged in court documents that DNAP and B&W worked together to utilize the genetically altered tobacco to manipulate the nicotine levels in tobacco plants, thereby making tobacco products derived from the gene-altered plants more addictive.

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