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Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" Cotton
Bombs in the USA

by Ronnie Cummins
Little Marais, Minnesota

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture announced Aug. 18 it is investigating complaints that Monsanto Co.'s herbicide resistant "Roundup Ready" cotton isn't "growing properly" in some fields in Mississippi. Lester Spell, Commissioner of Agriculture, stated that Mississippi authorities are "reviewing complaints" from farmers in the Mississippi Delta who claim that the genetically engineered cotton is producing bolls that are malformed or else are falling off the plant. ``This is a big concern to us,'' Spell said.

Problems with the transgenic cotton, which was developed by Monsanto to resist high dosages of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, first surfaced in early August when Monsanto admitted it had received reports of boll loss in a "small area" of the Mississippi Delta.

``In the first year of any new product introduction it is not uncommon for questions and issues to arise,'' Gary Barton, a Monsanto spokesman, told the press. ``We are aggressively investigating all agronomic and environmental conditions in the affected area that could impact product performance.''

In September cotton farmer complaints increased significantly, with reports of bolls prematurely falling off thousands of acres of cotton plants in Mississippi, Tenessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

According to press sources, Charles Merkel, an attorney with Merkel & Cocke in Clarksdale, Mississippi, has begun preparations for a possible class action lawsuit against Monsanto on behalf of a group of cotton growers who have suffered significant financial losses after planting Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" cotton. Similar class action suits were initiated last year in Texas and Louisiana by farmers who planted Monsanto's Bt (1) cotton. Outraged farmers alleged that Monsanto committed acts of "misrepresentation and fraud," after bollworms (which supposedly would be killed by the Bt cotton) attacked and damaged significant portions of their 1996 crop. Monsanto later admitted that their Bt "Bollgard" cotton failed to repel bollworms on almost half of the 1.5 million acres planted with their seeds last year.

Farmers across the United States have planted "Roundup Ready" cotton on over 800,000 acres this year, according to Monsanto. Another 1.5 to 2 million acres are planted with Monsanto's Bt cotton. The U.S. has a total of 14-15 million acres of cotton under cultivation in 1997.

In the U.S., as well as globally, a pattern of agricultural biotech failures seems to be emerging. Although the gene engineers like to claim that genetic engineering is an "exact science," field results tell a different story. Monsanto last April was forced to recall its entire crop (60,000 bags of seed, enough to plant up to 750,000 acres) of genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" rapeseed in Canada because of unexplained errors in its genetic engineering process. Similarly in 1994-96 Monsanto/Calgene's "Flavr Savr" Tomato suffered from "technological glitches" that--combined with consumer opposition--finally caused Calgene to pull the "Flavr Savr" tomato off the market in 1996. And of course continuing controversy over Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) has prevented the company from getting approval for rBGH in any other industrialized country other than the US. Even in the U.S., according to informed sources, fewer than 4% of all U.S. dairy cows are currently being injected with the drug every two weeks. Compounding Monsanto's problems, the Codex Alimentarius, the global food standards setting body for the WTO, has recently refused to certify that rBGH is safe for cows and humans.

(1) Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural soil microorganism which is the world's most important natural pesticide. Organic and sustainable farmers farmers worldwide use Bt (of course only when they have to and only for as short a period as possible) to repel plant pests such as the potato beetle, cotton bollworm, or corn borer.

Ronnie Cummins is National Director of the Pure Food Campaign, 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.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 21, 1997.