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More Biotech Blunders:

Mutant Cotton, Supercharged Cigarettes and Cows

Ronnie Cummins
Little Marais, Minnesota

More biotech blunders and disasters unfolded in January, with the usual cast of characters:

  • 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 (agriculture) biotech miracle product bites the dust.

  • 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 January 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% of U.S. dairy cows are currently being injected with the drug.

  • In a related development, the World Health Organization, meeting in Rome February 17-26 is 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 (European Union), 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.

Published in In Motion Magazine January 31, 1998.

Ronnie Cummins is National Director of the Pure Food Campaign (PFC), a non-profit, public interest organization dedicated to building a healthy, safe, and sustainable system of food production and consumption in the U.S. and the world. The PFC's primary strategy is to help build a national and international consumer/farmer/labor/progressive retailer boycott of genetically engineered and chemically contaminated foods and crops.