The broadest political movement to be seen in Europe in recent decades has been taking shape in opposition to the development and production of genetically-modified food crops.
Resistance is directed chiefly at the operations of the huge U.S. chemical company, Monsanto, which is its chief promoter.
Monsanto began its program in the U.S. with genetically- modified (GM) seeds of soya beans. In Europe, one of the main export markets for U.S. soya beans, doubts about the scientific testing of the altered bean have led to efforts to restrict its importation.
For Monsanto, its move into biotechnology means new vistas of profits.
A widespread invasion of the European market has been going on, with governments persuaded to undertake experimental plantings. In Britain alone there have been 1,200 such trials, involving 160 genetically-engineered seeds, and similar trials have been occurring in other countries of western Europe.
According to its supporters, GM can make food taste better, be more nutritious, improve yields and require fewer pesticides and herbicides.
Pointing to the emergence of BSE, or “mad cow disease,” that has been traced to untested cattle feeding techniques, its opponents contend that the potential risks cannot be predicted. They also point out that crop monoculture is susceptible to diseases, that there will be a loss of biodiversity, that power will be concentrated in the hands of agrochemical giants, that consumers are being given no choice, that the technology poses fundamental ethical questions about life forms and that already new toxins and allergies have developed.
The activities of Monsanto have disturbed many people who recall that it was Monsanto that created and produced Agent Orange, the lethal chemical used by the U.S. in Vietnam that caused death or malformation for countless Vietnamese as well as many U.S. soldiers.
Furthermore, past chemical tampering with agriculture saw the indiscriminate spraying of crops with DDT in the 1960s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since banned DDT because of its proven health dangers. And there was the “green revolution” of 30 years ago, featuring the use of costly chemical fertilizers that produced Third World farmers who are burdened by debt rather than basking in the sunshine of prosperity.
In France, the leaders of the biggest farmers’ union became folk heroes for destroying a GM-trial grain field and the government has been compelled to order a two-year moratorium on introducing GM crops. Greenpeace in Germany has mobilized a movement of 250,000 consumers against the sale of GM-linked foods.
The most extensive anti-GM movement has developed in Britain, where Monsanto is making its most vigorous drive. Over 40 groups have been set up with the aim of destroying the GM test sites by pulling up the plants. Currently, Monsanto is bringing a court case against five women who ripped up one of its sites.
Spontaneous organizations calling themselves “Earth First,” “Captain Chromosome,” “Genetic Superman,” search out test sites for razing. Although these are only the activist tip, the demand for a moratorium on tests for up to five years has been made by such conservative organizations as the Women’s Institute, the Country Landowners, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The National Trust, Britain’s biggest landowner, and the conservative National Farmers’ Union want greater study of the issue. On the other hand, the environmental organizations, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and the Soil Association call for a halt to the GM introduction entirely.
International aid groups like Oxfam and Christian Aid express doubts about the claim that the technology would relieve third world hunger.
Resistance has been greatly increased by the recent discovery that the claim that GM crops can withstand weed- killing herbicides is false. Instead, all that will happen is the development of a “super weed.” On top of this, research made public in August by the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland showed that rats eating GM potatoes over a three-month period suffered stunted growth and damage to their immune system.
In early August the prestigious British Vegetarian Society has refused to endorse foods with GM ingredients.
A major blow to the GM program has been a growing number of declarations and articles by environmentalists warning of the coming “silent spring.” So effective have this and other arguments been that many of those resisting the GM program see it as a reckless drive by Monsanto and other companies to disregard safeguards and thoroughly objective investigation in the pursuit of short-term profits. There is no objection to well-researched, proven technology that benefits humanity without harming sections of it, but, like the technology of nuclear weapons, if the effects are disastrous it has to be ended.
FROM THE PWW ARCHIVES, Sept. 5, 1998