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Changes at Monsanto

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It would appear that Monsanto is turning over a new "genetically modified" leaf. A company spokesperson pledged in the Aug. 17, 2002 issue of The Economist to be more transparent by involving the public in dialogue, presumably in response to European resistance against genetically modified organisms. A nice promise. But how realistic is it?

It would appear that Monsanto is turning over a new "genetically modified" leaf. A company spokesperson pledged in the Aug. 17, 2002 issue of The Economist to be more transparent by involving the public in dialogue, presumably in response to European resistance against genetically modified organisms. A nice promise. But how realistic is it?

Monsanto is the world's leading producer of genetically modified (GM) seed and one of the most important firms involved in chemical agriculture. The company focuses its business on four key crops: soy beans, corn, wheat and cotton.

The Economist reports that 83 per cent of Monsanto's $550-million research budget was devoted to the development of new seeds and biotechnology well over the industry average of 29 per cent. This means we can expect to hear about new Monsanto products in the years to come--notably, herbicide-tolerant wheat, a hotly contested product in Canada. Will Monsanto's so-called commitment to transparency and public accountability include the decision to not market products that threaten both the environment and export revenues for North American farmers?

Seeds Of Doubt

The North American genetic engineering industry hasn't been as successful as expected, according to a new report called "Seeds of Doubt," publicized last September by Britain's Soil Association. Authors Gundala Meziani and Hugh Warwick reveal how after six years of commercial growing, GM food crops haven't realized most of the claimed benefits, but have, in fact, been a "practical and economic disaster" for farmers.

Four countries, including Canada and the United States, produce 99 per cent of global GE crops, which makes North America a good place to evaluate. North American farmers were asked about their experience with GM corn, soy and canola. The report states that "widespread GM contamination has severely disrupted GM-free production [including], destroyed trade and undermined the competitiveness of North American agriculture overall." Among its other conclusions:

  • Farmers growing GM crops in North America have lost profits due to lower market prices and lower yields. For example, Roundup Ready soy crops yield six to 11 per cent less than non-GM varieties.
  • Canadian farmers rely on herbicides more than ever; they also have less choice in how they farm, as they become locked into GM crops.
  • GM soy beans, corn and canola crops have cost the US economy more than $12 billion in farm subsidies since 1999.
  • The lack of segregation between GM and non-GM varieties has made the food processing and distribution system susceptible to costly contamination accidents. The Starlink contamination of GM corn that was unapproved for human consumption into the US corn supply cost the company responsible almost $1 billion.
  • In just a few years, Canada has lost $300 million in annual canola oilseed exports to countries within Europe and Japan.

Farmers indicate that market problems have made them question the future of GM crops. Most farming organizations in the US and Canada have joined forces to lobby against the release of GM wheat, the next proposed GM crop. The full "Seeds of Doubt" report is available for purchase at soilassociation.org.

Choosing Kitchen Oils

Given the prevalence of GM oilseeds, it's important to carefully choose your kitchen oils. In addition to great taste, when you opt for organic, natural, cold-pressed oils such as pumpkin seed, flax, walnut, hazelnut and olive oil, you can be assured they are GM-free. The best places to find these unrefined oils are in culinary-specialty shops and health food stores.

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