Peter Rae's rational and impassioned appeal for more caution in new methods of food production.
Dear American Friends, Old & New
My first visit back to the United States, after an absence of 6+ years, left me, as always, invigorated by all those I met and by the energy with which projects and ideas are being pursued.
But, for the first time, I was also left with a deep-seated concern: it appears that the complexity of the many fundamental issues confronting US society (and therefore eventually the world) has frozen many formerly activist people into mesmerised inactivity. Or it has encouraged the ostrich syndrome, whereby heads collectively are stuck into the sand.
This was nowhere more apparent than around the issue of genetic engineering in food production. The silence I found in the US contrasts strongly with the momentous struggles taking place here in England, in Europe and much of the rest of the world: during my 3 week visit only one mention, in a local paper, and one programme, on National Public Radio, referred to the issue. By contrast, genetic engineering is on everybody's lips over here and in most of the remainder of the world.
This lack of debate, and apparently awareness too, has fired me to write this open letter. Feel free to circulate it, claim it as your own, extract from it, do whatever you want, but please get its message into circulation. Help identify somebody willing to fund and make a TV programme for Public Service TV — there is one hell of a story waiting to be told. Provide me with a platform and I shall come and speak.
Why am I addressing this letter specifically to my "American Friends"? Simply because you belong to the most powerful nation on earth, the nation that is currently forcing something upon the rest of this planet which is truly frightening. Wherever the US genetic engineering companies, led by your Monsanto, are challenged over introducing their genetic technology, the response is "if (sophisticated) Americans (farmers and consumers) have accepted this exciting technology, why can't you". Yet, from my brief observations neither your farmers nor your consumers have any idea what the issues are and certainly have not consciously welcomed biotechnology with its full ramifications
At issue is the following—
- the driving force of capitalism is the maximisation of profits (by the managements of given corporations) and the creation of as stable a base as possible for future revenues and growth
- led by the US, business has hit upon the idea that if it can establish ownership rights over the basic building blocks of life on earth, then it will have secured for itself a business base that will take care of all its growth and performance needs for as long as there is life on earth (gene-hunters are furiously patenting the genes of plants in the emerging nations — for example, the owner of the gene that differentiates basmati rice from ordinary rice can now claim a royalty on every grain of basmati rice ever grown anywhere in the world!!)
- additionally, alter the basic building blocks of life just sufficiently to show that they are of your laboratory's creation and you can collect royalties on these until kingdom come; gradually replace the natural building blocks of life with those you have created in your laboratory and you control all life forms (for example, discover the gene that makes an individual resistant to a certain disease and from that moment onwards you will have an absolute global monopoly on any further research around that gene and on any application of knowledge related to it)
- of course, you have to be able to collect your royalties, which, in the case of seeds might be difficult, because by definition the 2 billion farmers of the world are disbursed — so you need to make sure that they will pay for new seeds each season (and not cheat by following the age old pattern of holding back a third of this season's harvest as seed for the new season): you do this by building in the so called "terminator gene", which, unless you buy the seed and a certain chemical key, will destroy your new season's seeds before they can germinate (first you have to force the 2 billion farmers to move away from their multiple-crop traditions and become mono-crop farmers, which removes their independence, self-sufficiency and sustainability: you do this by forcing their governments to open their markets in the spirit of fair trade, you then persuade the same governments to take on costly foreign loans in order to raise economic standards, such loans can then only be repaid by food exports which require cash crops which require seeds and fertilisers (and so the ground is prepared)
- the consumer cries for labelling of GM (genetically modified) food in order to offer freedom of choice in Britain and Europe, now beginning to be echoed in the US, is an important mile stone in upsetting the master plan illustrated above. But it cannot end there, it has to be the beginning of the end of a madness apparently sanctioned by our capitalist system hijacked by Frankenstein (in Europe, all GM food is being collectively called "Frankenstein food" or "Frankenfood"—adopt it in the US too so that people can begin to visualise what we are up against)
The meeting in Frankfurt, just ended, of the so called G8 nations, the wealthiest nations on earth, resolved, under pressure from the German Greens, to conduct an international survey of the true ramifications of genetically modifying (or 'engineering') food. The Paris based OECD will conduct this survey. But be warned, like the WTO who act as world policeman enforcing (US) free trade policies, the OECD is dominated by the same players who started the madness of genetic patenting (based on lies I refer to later). This is our chance to let our governments know what we truly think of the whole issue.
Yesterday's papers carried a report that the first US petition for the labelling of GM food, supported by 500,000 signatures, has just been delivered to Congress (to the Democrat Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, David Boniors). A beginning at last, here is a web site on the internet where you can register your views, www.safe-food.org/welcome.html. Why this apparently simple petition represents some real difficulties I shall describe later. Your nation has historically, on balance, done more good and has been more generous than any other nation ever before, and for this I have admired and loved your country and will go on doing so. But the consistent and relentless drive for success, mostly measured financially, which previously enabled your generosity is now threatening everything that has gone before. Things are now being done in the name of the peoples of the US about which they have no idea and the true threat of which has not been spelt out, a threat not just to others, but ultimately to the natural evolution, possibly even survival, of the entire human race.
Of course this letter needs to (and will) go to my friends everywhere, but none of them have the chance to influence the government of your most powerful nation, which is now acting as very short-sighted bully boy on behalf of a very small number of commercial interests led by men with very narrow views and time horizons. But blame not them alone, they are only doing their job (these words seem to echo down the corridors of time) as defined by our corporate laws and practices formulated within the narrow confines of our economic system. Robert Shapiro, president of Monsanto is on the record for having stated that it is the company' objective to become "a global seed company (the largest!)" able "to consolidate the whole food chain".
This letter is a second attempt. The first version was driven by raw despair at the apathy in your country and what your government is seeking to impose on the rest of the world. A devastating article in one of our mass-circulation newspapers triggered my writing the first letter immediately following my return — if you want to catch a flavour of that anguish, please go straight to the extract from the Daily Mail, which I have appended to this letter. I realised too that if I allowed myself to be moved by (my wholly justified) despair alone I would miss an opportunity to draw together and highlight the inter-linked issues raised by genetic engineering.
I therefore put myself through a crash-course in informing myself about these major issues, which I have summarised above. Most depressing, in a sense, is the fact that while genetic engineering is being presented to us as an exact science, it is not, and now that I have a deeper understanding of it (as you will if you keep reading) I understand that it never can be. My reading further confirmed that most contributions to the discussion are presented from a single perspective, reflecting — unsurprisingly — the writer's background — the biologist tends not to address the economic implications; the economist not the ethical / moral issues; etc
I have here sought to draw together the main issues and show how they inter-connect. Genetic engineering undoubtedly gives us a chance, at the dawn of the New Millennium, to take a hard look at our human arrogance, reflected by the genetic engineers in the so-called life-sciences based companies; the morality of business; the neo-imperialism threatening to engulf the emerging nations; the sterility of the pursuit of corporate growth for the sake of profit alone; the gullibility of the public in our so-called "developed" societies of the industrialised countries; the shameful lack of support we give to alternative solutions that do not conform with our rush for profit; questions over the very role of our current form of government in the modern world. Unless we address these issues we will through sheer ignorance permit happenings more damaging than anything gone before to be visited upon our planet and all its life. The myths and legends that have stayed with us from antiquity, indeed have guided our intellectual evolution, carry warnings of the dire consequences arising from ignorant interference with nature.
My main challenge here lies in presenting each issue in sufficient detail to illustrate the overall challenge while ensuring that this does not become the longest and most unreadable letter ever, or leaving you the reader so depressed that you decide that there is nothing you can do about this issue. I can not have detailed knowledge in each of the relevant issues, my grasp of each is however good enough to be able to paint the big picture. If I fail with you, then at least give me credit for having tried and pass it on in a form you believe your recipients will get the point. I would welcome a speaker's platform on which to express the passion I feel behind these words. When originally contemplating this task I almost gave up because of its presentational complexity, I certainly proceeded only after releasing a silent cry for help. Please provide feedback, suggested alterations and additional material for a possible expanded version. In a very few places I have deliberately allowed a repetition to remain so that a key point is truly rammed home.
The engine for the widespread introduction of genetic engineering is the profit motive. "Greed" is a word widely used, I do not like it, as it implies a judgement that is not justified for as long as we subscribe to the capitalist model which at its core demands the maximisation of profits. This model does, however, remain silent about morality; ethics; our relationship with, and responsibilities towards, nature; humility over our understanding of nature and its evolutionary process; and, most dangerously, it does not encourage the long view on anything. By way of contrast, the Hopi Indians will only permit something to be done if they can determine what the likely impact will be on the next 7 future generations; if they can not, the development is turned down, no matter how greatly lucrative and beneficial it may have been for the present generation. Under our system, we are wedded to the short-term — end-of year profits, increased yields on shares, and on securing sufficient market share, if not control, to ensure future economic growth.
We need therefore to become aware of the economic drive behind genetic engineering: key tools in support of the achievement of our economic objectives are advertising / PR / spin-doctoring and however else we camouflage what often amounts to no more than half-truths. Let me follow one strand of the economic argument connected to genetic engineering, which is that because so much money is spent on research, commercial companies must be permitted to recover this money by patenting their discoveries. First, to the financial reality — the costs for research in most Western economies, certainly in the UK, are actually carried by us, the tax payers: we provide 100% tax write-offs, plus a further 25% tax write-offs each year for ancillary costs; we give direct grants; we buy the products we have funded for our state programmes and we provide our personal records free-of-charge as research data (some of the most active gene-hunters have located themselves in Utah because of the free access to generational records). The cost-recovery argument therefore sucks. But we have bought it.
What does the patenting of genes mean? It means that the basic building blocks of life are in the process of being bought up and owned — wherever a discovery is made by "gene-hunters", say which gene enables a particular family to avoid a certain disease, or how one variant of rice differs from another, this gene is patented and its use, even for research, requires henceforth a payment to the patent holder. "Gene hunters" have identified at little real cost genes in many of the plants and crops in the emerging nations, have patented them and now demand that poor farmers, whose ancient knowledge they have stolen in the first place, pay them every time they re-plant their own seeds! If they do not pay up, the patent holders will seek enforcement of their rights via an international body, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), more about whom later. In order to make their demand for royalty payments more enforceable, terminator genes are being introduced into the seeds — these genes kill the seeds unless made harmless with a proprietary chemical.
Imagine, within the next decade it is anticipated that every single gene in your and my body will have been identified for its characteristics and will have been patented, i.e. the knowledge pertaining to it may only be used after payment to the patent holder. Do I really have to spell out what this will do, for instance, to research? Is it really that surprising that Asian and African farmers have written to the European Union begging that they resist this commercial and ethical madness! That Indian farmers have demonstrated and burned down as many GM crop fields they have been able to identify. After complaints by the US government the World Trade Organisation has already found against us Europeans because we have refused the importation of certain GM foods from the US, unless clearly labelled, and are continuing to do so. Your government is therefore entitled to impose certain trade sanctions against us. Europe will survive, but the same tactics have forced several emerging nations to give in.
In a very thoughtful article, one of our members of parliament (Alan Simpson MP) argues that bio-technology, as it is currently taking shape, and democracy are incompatible. He also warns against the emergence of a new form of economic colonialism — although the most exciting gene-banks are currently to be found in the lesser developed emerging nations, only we in the industrialised countries can afford to apply the rules we have created (and have the muscle to enforce) to take legal possession of these genes.
One of the other arguments put forward is that genetic engineering will help feed the hungry of the world, particularly as the Green Revolution can no longer do so.
Before looking at this claim we need perhaps to remind ourselves what the Green Revolution was and how it lived up to its promises: under this banner we created mono-crop cultures, which would generate cash from the rich world markets, safely away from poor small local economies. Local markets required the greater (and hence more difficult to control) bio-diversity of multi-crops. Mono-crops required high doses of fertilisers and pesticides, improved irrigation (as they required greater quantities of water) and heavy mechanisation. Incidentally, it takes on average 1000 tonnes of water to grow 1 tonne of traditional wheat, any increased demand is therefore a major item. In the short term we fed more people than ever before. But at what a price — according to the World Food Organisation (FAO) we will by the end of this year have lost 95% of the genetic diversity we had at the beginning of this century. We are continuing to lose species (which equals bio-diversity) at the rate of 50,000 per annum and project that this will go on for decades, even without the introduction of genetic engineering. These Green Revolutionary methods also degraded the land to a frightening extent, it is estimated that 40% of all fertile land was severely degraded.
Mono-cultures are notoriously prone to disease, even the USA is at risk — in 1970/71 and 1975 the corn belt of the US was devastated by corn blight; Indonesian and Indian farmers lost most of their rice crops. By contrast, India, for example had more than 23,000 varieties of rice at the turn of the century (now only a handful); to this day women in some villages grow as many as 70 different varieties, each carefully bred from generations of experience. Such variety guaranteed survival in the event of disease. Projects in Africa and India are showing that by reverting to traditional methods and improving on them, even in arid regions yield increases of 50% and 100% are achievable and dependency on pesticides and fertilisers reduced to minimal levels. Such successes are, naturally, seen as threats in the boardrooms of the life sciences companies — reduced chemical dependency! greater improvements in yields (relying solely on traditional methods) than is possible with genetic engineering! farmers, mostly women in these instances, proud and self confident!—none of this will increase profits (and bonuses, and egos, etc.)!
Contrast these successes with the experiences of farmers in India who were persuaded to switch to cotton as a mono-crop: much of their land has become denuded of top soil and lost all fertility. The peasant farmers lost their economic self-sufficiency and independence as 10 years ago they rarely grew just one crop, they planted a variety which enabled them to feed themselves and their families with enough left for the markets and the next season. Under pressure from the World Bank and the IMF India was forced to open its borders to Western imports and techniques, which resulted in farmers having to buy GE seeds, chemical fertilisers, etc. As they could no longer hold back seed for next season's planting, farmers had to borrow from money lenders, who have been granted credits by the seed companies, with which to buy new seed. They have now become caught in the debt trap from which they are unlikely ever to escape. For many this has meant death — in one state alone, Andrah Pradesh in Central India, the last 18 months has seen 500 farmers commit suicide with very the chemicals that could not save their crops — world prices in cotton fell, pests became immune to pesticides and the hybrid seeds they were forced to buy proved themselves notoriously unreliable. These are the very people who not that long ago would accompany every stage of the seeding and harvesting process with ceremonies, dance and blessings and would so imbue their crop with that ingredient X that differentiates home cooking from the offerings of the best restaurants. Picture this same formerly happy man, average age late twenties, average debt probably less than $100, with a young wife and 2 or more children, being found dead in his small, now infertile field, clutching a plastic bottle marked 'poison', staring sightless at the sky with the grimace of agony from chemical poisoning on his face. And multiply this not only by 500, but across many other states and nations. And all because executives in far away corporations are innocently executing a master plan which will ensure their company's growth and profitability well into the next century.
Another undermining of the lie, that GM foods will benefit the hungry of this world, lies in the fact that we could feed the world today if only we permitted our farmers to produce, rather than — for political reasons — paying them to produce less and let their land lie fallow.
This is perhaps a good moment to get a better understanding of what the term "genetic engineering" really means: all living organisms consist of millions of cells. Each cell contains a nucleus. Inside every nucleus are strings of DNA, organised into chromosomes, usually two per cell, one from the father, the other from the mother (46 in all, in the human body). Genes are the sections that carry genetic information and make up the double helix of DNA. To give an idea of the complexity we are here looking at — if all the DNA in the human body were unravelled it would reach to the moon and back 8000 times: and we, still stuck in the model of a mechanical universe, arrogantly presume to know how each of the constituents in such a long thread interacts with all the others. In fairness, we tend to use the haunting term "substantial equivalency" when making claims about this understanding!
Genetic engineering is often likened to the historical crossbreeding process without which we would not have the diversity in foods we have. This is a terrible misrepresentation. Nature has a built in safety mechanism even when closely related species interbreed, e.g. a horse can mate with an ass and produce a mule, but the mule is sterile. Genetic engineers on the other hand overcome these safe-guards by using a carrier, or vector, that has learned to invade foreign bodies, typically genetic parasites, including viruses that cause diseases in animals and plants into which foreign DNA matter is placed. To find out which vectors have taken the DNA, all are placed in an antibiotic liquid, those that are found resistant to the antibiotic, called 'marker genes', are then removed and used for genetic engineering purposes, i.e. inserted into the life-form to be genetically engineered. In order to increase the effectiveness of these markers, so called 'promoter genes', also taken from bacteria or viruses, are introduced with the marker genes. They have the effect of switching on the new gene in its new host. Such promoters are known to accelerate the production of substances that at higher levels make the host toxic, whereas previously this was not the case.
Get the picture — take that gene of an arctic fish (e.g. the flounder) which permits it to live in the cold seas of the arctic, place it in a vector that is known to be hostile to a tomato or strawberry, mark those vectors that survive the antibiotic test and splice these into tomatoes or strawberries, add some promoter genes and you end up with frost-resistant tomatoes and strawberries. We can introduce genes into plants taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals and humans. Surely it does not take a rocket scientist to see that this technique is fundamentally different to cross-breeding within related species, often conducted by nature over hundreds of millions of years, or by man over entire life cycles!
We are choosing to ignore what not only what our common sense, our inner voice, tells us, but what other scientists are saying too, namely that "genes interact with the environment in which they are in" (Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for this discovery). Recently, in the US, a cow egg had its nucleus removed and replaced with a human gene. It was allowed to live to 14 days and then destroyed, not only because of existing laws, but because there was concern that certain cow-characteristics may have remained attached to this cow-human. The mind boggles (and my hairs stand on end) when I try and contemplate what this cow- human might have looked like (remember the centaurs of Greek Myth?).
So what can go wrong in this world, visible only to the most powerful microscopes? What damage can the genetically modified plant cause in the environment? According to the GM camp nothing, or only something so remote it is not worth contemplating.
In 1989 a new brand of a widely used food supplement was released on to the US market — L-tryptophan. This brand had been made with a genetically modified bacterium which produced increased levels of L-tryptophan. Shortly after its introduction 5000 people in the States fell ill with some horrible symptoms—37 died and 1500 have been left with permanent disabilities. Because the brand was not marked as "GM product" it took time to locate the source of the outbreak. The product had been passed for human consumption as it had been found to be "substantially equivalent" to L-tryptophan produced without genetic engineering (with which no problems have ever been encountered). The same rules that permitted a GM product to poison 5000 innocent humans today still regulates international GM safety precautions.
Transgenic soya beans containing a brazil-nut gene was found to be allergenic by almost causing the death of somebody allergic to nuts and with no idea that soya might contain such a gene. There are reports of the gene of a fruitfly reaching humans and causing a neurological wasting disease. The marker gene for GM tomatoes carries resistance to kanamycin, which is so highly toxic that it is only used in the treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis. Exposure to such tomatoes is likely to decrease the effect of kanamycin at precisely the time when tuberculosis is on the rise again and its bacteria are showing worrying resistance to many drugs.
The use of antibiotics in determining marker genes risks making bacteria, including those living in the human gut, resistant to antibiotics. This is already occurring in some hospitals where super-bugs are resisting all forms of antibiotics. An East German study in 1983 showed that the guts of pigs fed with antibiotics were resisting the antibiotic streptothricin, and that this was being passed on to farm workers and their families by 1984 and the general public by 1985. Although the drug was withdrawn, the prevalence of resistant bacteria in 1993 still remained very high.
Genetically engineered crops can be made to be resistant to anything, including weeds and pests, indeed this is one their selling points. Unfortunately what is here being defined as a weed and pest is often an essential part in the food chain of birds, insects and other creatures of the wild : pesticide or herbicide poured over a crop that is resistant to it will kill these parts of the food chain and so reduce the range of wild life, i.e. bio-diversity. Because of the presence of promoters, genetically engineered products may often be found to be producing much greater quantities of a substance that would normally be the case, thus making the produce highly toxic. Because the use of vectors makes the outcome of any genetic engineering highly uncertain, nobody can for certain say how such a product will impact on a human. Only time can tell.
While medical products of the pharmaceutical industry are required to be tested over a 15 year period, GE foods have been able to reach the market place within months because of the narrow, mechanical test of "substantial equivalency". The genetic environment of the gene that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years is being almost instantaneously replaced with very little real knowledge as to the long term consequences. The far less invasive approaches of the Green Revolution have left our planet far worse off than it could have been had we concentrated on supporting and enhancing the skills and traditions of the local farming communities, rather than making them dependent on the damaging impact of chemical dependency.
Is it that difficult to project a future in which only a few crops are used around the world; these are owned by a handful of corporations who are busily making money from coming up with new ways of increasing yields on the one hand and countering the effects of such a sterile approach to food production on the other. The fact that we have lost most of our bio-diversity, also known as wildlife, is actually advantageous, we will be told in advertisements, because there will now be far less threat to our food supply! The fact that we shall have even greater incidences of cancer, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and all those other wonderful diseases that are being accepted as an integral part of life in the 21st century will also be presented as a good thing, as sales of remedies and treatments will increase the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies (many of which in any event already enjoy common ownership with the "life science" companies, as those who lead the genetic engineering field like to call their new branch of industry).
Is it entirely accidental that the vast increases in health disorders amongst children and adults has coincided with our increased reliance on chemicals in the food chain: cancer has doubled, asthma has increased fivefold amongst pre-school children, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, at last recognised as a genuine disease, has been labelled "an inevitable by-product of our age", and our doctors' lists of diseases and waiting patients grow, while we run out of hospital spaces. By allowing foods to be so randomly 'genetically improved' we are creating time bomb of unknown power — it is not a handful of brave volunteers who will be seeking to test these new foods, it is entire populations and their future off-spring that are being put at risk for the sake of the increased profits of some shareholders who do not even know what is being done in their name and whose government is seeking to coerce the planet to acquiesce (ours in Britain did, but the people stood up and said 'no'). If this mass experiment were to go wrong, as it stands at least a 50% chance to, we would have disaster on hand the likes of which we can not even begin to contemplate. As we get it wrong in some very simple areas (for example, deep water wells for Indian villages: Western aid programmes generously provided equipment for them, they went too deeply into poisonous soil and now 3 million Indians, including many, many children are crippled and made dependent for life), how much more likely are we to get it wrong when fiddling with the building blocks of life.
Dolly the Sheep is presented as the shining example of a genetically engineered healthy beast. No mention is made of the literally thousands of failures on the way, beasts with heads protruding from their stomachs and other horrible malformations. And now we are told that her cells are showing signs of very premature ageing. Imagine starting Sunday lunch with GM lamb and leaving the table several days older! If the article about US beef I have appended is read correctly then the chances are that with each stake and hamburger you are indeed doing something towards reducing your life expectancy and state of health!
If there are those souls who have infinite faith in a science propelled by the profit motive, let's label our GM foods so that they can feast on these while the rest of us select non-GM and organic foods. At least two farmers in the US tried to label their produce as not containing a particular genetically engineered Bt hormone produced by Monsanto. They were taken to court by Monsanto and lost. That ensured that nobody else dared tell the world that they had GMO-free produce to sell.
So lets label what does and does not contain GM, directly or indirectly. We were always told that GM plant pollen would not travel beyond, say, 60 feet, and that therefore there was no risk of cross-pollination with normal or organic crops. Our government bought this until its own research scientists found that this pollen could travel over many miles, up to 100 miles even. Some research is suggesting that GM pollen has already reached our stratosphere! Pollen of plants that have been created by tricking nature could interact with other plants in ways we cannot and will not ever know. But they could also interact with insects, that are consumed by birds that form the food chain all the way into the human gut. The pessimists say it is too late to save the concept of organic food. I say that this is our chance to stop the madness.
The question often arises why we in Europe and the rest of the world seem to have woken up to this threat earlier than you Americans (but still not before 60% of all our processed food contained US GM soya). In part this is because you rely for your bio-diversity on the great expanses of wilderness you have in the US, whereas we in the crowded rest of the world rely on our farmers and we therefore show a much closer interest in what they are doing. But it probably also has something to do with us not having blind faith in "government knows best", which seems to have prevailed in the US and which seems to have included corporations that perform well in the stock market, irrespective of how they actually achieve this. I do believe it is changing now, in Europe we have tended to be watchful of their activities, again because we are so tightly packed into our national borders.
Let me, for light relief, throw in another issue that arises when we permit technology surreptitiously to be introduced into the food chain — food radiation (with radio-active substances): in a celebrated court case it was found that meat condemned as unfit for human consumption in the UK (where radiation is banned) was exported to Europe (where radiation is permitted), where it was given radiation treatment, and then sold back to the UK for human consumption. Radiation made it impossible to detect the fraud, only mistakes in the paper work threw up this fraud. Food radiation is, I believe, permitted in the US — do you know how fresh, for instance, your already deadly stressed out meat is?
We in Britain had to slaughter our entire cattle herds in order to eliminate "mad cow" disease, or the fear of it. It was brought about because feed companies, in order to increase their profits, not to make food cheaper to the consumer, mixed the offal and other remnants of slaughtered animals into the feedstuff of their alive descendants, all of whom where (and still are) vegetarian herbivores. Is it little wonder that they (and some of those who ate their flesh) developed a deadly disease first observed in some of the remaining cannibals of New Guinea. Your Department of Agriculture, of the only nation in the West that permits the feeding raw sewage to your cattle, claims that the US is BSE free. But you habitually slaughter your animals younger than in the UK and just before the age in which the symptoms of BSE begin to show! And each year 120,000 plus cattle suddenly drop dead, for no discernible reason. These cattle casualties are described and written off as victims of SDS, Sudden Death Syndrome — if I were a meat eater, I would want to know what SDS really signified and how many SDS-deceased steaks reached my dinner plate — but please wait before you make up your minds until you read the excerpt from the Daily Mail that I have appended.
Do you know that McDonald's, that so quintessentially American eatery, has just announced that it too is banning in the UK (and Europe?) all GM products from its dishes. If it accepts that there are doubts about GM food that might risk the health of Europeans, why does it not extend the same precautions to the US? Just about all our supermarkets, food chains (incl. Pizza Hut, Perfect Pizza, KFC & Burger King) and big food manufacturers have agreed to eliminate GM ingredients.
I have given above the address of a WebSite which is collecting names for a petition for Federal Legislation that will require food to be GM labelled : folks that is not enough, too slow — you / we need direct action — picket the supermarkets, they can only survive by remaining sensitive and responsive to consumer demands. Boycott certain foods — those containing soya, for example (which is about 60% of all produce). Most soya in the US is GModified and Monsanto provided. Buy shares in Monsanto and make your shareholder voices heard. Demand from your legislators that the practice of patenting genes be stopped. Begin asking the question whether companies can outlive their usefulness and perhaps should be closed down at some given point, when they begin to threaten life as we know it on this planet.
In the UK we scored a partial victory by succeeding within 6 months to go up against our government and to force in legislation that requires the labelling of all GM foods; we are now battling to have the numerous foods containing GM derivatives labelled too. We have also achieved a 5 year moratorium for the further testing of GM produce.
Finally, I list on my second Appendix some of the names and WebSites of organisations and individuals who are doing good work in resisting and co-ordinating resistance to the GM threat to our freedom to eat whatever we elect to rather than what a bunch of short-sighted marketing guys decree is good for us.
Please let me have your comments and contributions to this important issue; if you do not want to hear anything more about it, please let me know and I shall ensure that you do not receive future communications on this issue.
With very best regards
Peter B. Rae
p.S. Since writing this letter something else has surfaced in the UK that suggests that perhaps the role of government in our modern society, together with economics and commerce without morality, needs to be re-examined : one of our most respected Sunday papers, the Observer, recently revealed that for a number of years our government had been persuaded by Monsanto to permit the secret release of BST milk to the general populace (the substance that is now considered potentially harmful by our government advisers).
Now comes the outrage : asked to reveal more about these mass-tests our government has stated that it cannot do so without the permission of Monsanto as the information had to be considered proprietary to them!
Whose interest does modern government, in the US and UK in particular, consider it represent? Those who elect them to administer our countries, or those who make it possible, through "donations" for political parties and their individual members, to have themselves re-elected? Are we, the people, simply to be ignored between elections, even conspired against, while those who have the money and machinery can push their narrow commercial interests and help government tell us lies via what is euphemistically called "spin-doctoring"?
I am beginning to see the positive aspect of the genetic engineering issue — it has to represent a wake-up call to re-examine economics without morality and government by subterfuge. The lie of increased productivity under chemically-based farming methods is there for all to see, and the dis-connectedness of modern government becomes more and more apparent by the day.
Copyright © Peter B. Rae, 1999, 2002