Government by Monsanto
Civitas Letter to the Editor of The Economist

January 1, 2000                                                                         Home         

Letter to the Editor
THE ECONOMIST

Thank you for GREAT millennium issue! We're saving it for the
grandchildren.

We thought your coverage of Monsanto's and CEO Robert Shapiro's
business problems ("Grim reaper") was overly sympathetic, however. You describe people at large "whose ignorance has led them to reject
biotechnology" and Americans "initially immune to such fears" of
biotechnology as "now vulnerable to them" as if tampering with building
blocks of life produces a universal benefit, an assumption by no means
proven. Mr. Shapiro may have "gone out of his way to preach corporate
responsibility" as you reported, but his disregard for the effects of
biotechnology on the world and its inhabitants has been highly
irresponsible.

The company's Posilac, a genetically manipulated (GM) bovine growth
hormone (rBGH a.k.a. rBST-bovine somatotropin) designed to increase milk production in dairy cows, has caused almost all Americans who consume dairy products to ingest higher levels of insulin growth factor (IGF-1) which is known to cause acromegaly, glucose intolerance, and hypertension in humans.  When Posilac caused leukemia and tumors in rats (which, due to interspecies differences, may or may not have been indicative that it would do so in humans), the Delaney clause, part of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act, was rewritten to allow a product that caused cancer in laboratory animals to be marketed for human consumption without a warning label.

This development was facilitated by the installation of Monsanto
attorney, Michael R. Taylor, once executive assistant to President Clinton, and Monsanto chief scientist, Margaret Miller, to key positions in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, the 12 members of the Dairy Subcommittee of the House Agricultural Committee received campaign donations from Monsanto totaling $711,000 which may, or may not, have had something to do with the fact that a bill, that would have required rBGH milk to be labeled as such, died in that committee.

It also helped that FDA Commissioner David Kessler, relying on
erroneous data furnished by Monsanto subsidiary G.D. Searle, testified that 90% of rBGH is destroyed by pasteurization when the correct figure is close to 19%. FDA chose to ignore warnings about GM foods from its own experts and is currently being sued for this by the Iowa-based Alliance for Bio-Integrity.

Members of Monsanto's Board of Directors with close ties to American
government include: Mickey Kantor, former secretary of commerce, U.S. trade representative and one of President Clinton's personal attorneys; and William D. Ruckelshaus, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Michael A. Friedman, M.D, senior vice-president of clinical affairs for G.D. Searle, Monsanto's pharmaceutical division, was once acting director of FDA. Marcia Hale, Monsanto's director of U.K. government affairs was formerly assistant to President Clinton for intergovernmental affairs. Linda J. Fisher, Monsanto vice president of public affairs was once administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. Monsanto legal adviser Jack Watson, Monsanto legal was chief of White House staff in the Carter Administration.

It is not surprising that many Americans feel that Monsanto
sometimes has more influence on the way they are governed than their
elected officials.

The fact is largely ignored that rBGH-injected cows have a shorter life span, suffer more mastitis, and require the use of more antibiotics, thereby reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics in general. A report in "Science" (August 24, 1990) revealed higher concentrations of IGF-1
in milk from rBGH-injected cows than in milk from untreated cows.

People "whose ignorance has led them to reject biotechnology" may
not be so ignorant as your report indicates. According to an article in the
"Journal of Medicinal Food" (Vol. 1 no. 4, 1999), soy beans grown from GM seed are 12-14% lower in cancer-fighting phytoestrogens, than soy beans grown from untreated seed.

Despite all the hoopla for GM crops, researchers investigating
neighboring fields of soy, cotton and corn crops found non-GM crops in 12 of 18 areas studied produced 10% or higher yields than the GM versions. They also found that growers of Roundup Ready soybeans used two to five times more herbicide than farmers using regular weed control programs with non GM soybeans. A study published in the "Journal of American Cancer Society" (March 15, 1999) found an increased risk of Hodgkins lymphoma in people exposed to Roundup (glyphosphate).

The more a herbicide is used, the more opportunity there is for weeds
to develop resistant strains creating a demand for still stronger
herbicides.  The same is true of insecticides which can result in resistant
strains of harmful insects. These toxins also kill beneficial insects like
ladybugs and lacewings that help to control the balance of insect life in
our favor.

Government by and for Monsanto and similar conglomerates is not
without drawbacks. 

                                     ____________________

Acknowledgement:  Many of the facts in this letter came from an article by John R. Luoma in Mother Jones  Jan/Feb 2000

Recommended reading: Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare
                                       
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho  $16

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