Demographic, Environmental
Security Issues Project

DESIP Addendum 5

May 2001

with two articles, special to DESIP, by Melody Sherosky

c o n t e n t s


Update on Algerian Crisis: The Tragedy Continues

Current estimates of the deaths in the Algerian civil war since the cancellation of the 1992 parliamentary elections are at least 100,000, “with many human rights activists in Algeria and elsewhere claiming that the figure is at least double that number,” according to Algerian human rights activist, Ahmed Bouzid, in an article in Z Magazine, (December 2000).

“Between 1992 and 1999, thousands of political detainees and prisoner of conscience were arrested and illegally held, often for years without trial. In the few cases where a trial was conducted, international fair trial standards were routinely violated or ignored or suspended. The practice of torture to extract confessions also became routine. In 1998, Amnesty International reported, “more people are dying in Algeria than anywhere else in the Middle East. Time and time again, no one is brought before a court of law. There is just a statement, released to the press, that a killer or killers has been killed.”

“A major human rights challenge the authorities have yet to address properly is the case of the thousands of “disappeared’ people. In his 1999 campaign for the presidency, President Bouteflika promised that his government would carry out investigations into the “disappearances.” Since his election, however, nothing has been done by the authorities to reveal what happened to some 4,000 people who“disappeared’ after arrest by the security and paramilitary militias between 1993 and 1999.

“The darkest period in the chronology of massacres in Algeria began in the summer of 1997 and lasted until the middle of 1998. During that period, rarely did a week ago by when a massacre of civilians did not take place….”

“Officially, the Algerian authorities have invariably attributed all violence to the shadowy GIA, an alleged radical offshoot of the banned Islamist FIS. Doubts have surfaced, however, over the true identity of the GIA, with most Algerians coming to believe that factions within the security forces resolute on not negotiating a political settlement…have been behind at least some of the violence, and that the GIA is partially controlled and manipulated by security elements.” 

Although government involvement has never been conclusively demonstrated, some “basic facts” may help to outline the truth. “First, the majority of the victims have been poor villagers and shantytown dwellers, the very same people who voted with overwhelming support for the FIS in the canceled parliamentary elections of December 1991…Most observers find dubious and unlikely the proposition that Islamists have turned against their very base out of some feeling of desperation and hopelessness…Instead, the widely held belief is that elements within the security forces averse to any political compromise have been following a systematic scorched earth policy of demonizing the Islamist opposition, terrorizing the popular base of that opposition, and maintaining a general atmosphere of terror where arbitrary state actions against any show of dissent can be taken…”

“…stunningly flagrant [has been the] repeated failure of the Algerian authorities to protect and come to the rescue of civilians in mortal danger.  According to the Amnesty International 1998 annual report, “most of the massacres took place near the capital.  Algiers, and in the Blida and Medea regions, in the most heavily militarized part of the country. Often massacres were committed in villages situated close to army barracks and security forces posts, and in some cases survivors reported that army security forces units were stationed nearby.”  The report went on to point out that the “the killings often lasted several hours, but the army and security forces failed to intervene to stop the massacres and allowed the attackers to leave undisturbed.”  (In March of this year, an anti-terrorist case in Britain against three alleged Algerian terrorists—a case that has collapsed, resulting in a ruling of not guilty in favor of the defendants – has revealed through official secret documents that the governments of Britain and the United States believed, in sharp contrast to their publicly stated positions, that Algerian government forces were involved in atrocities against innocent civilians.)

“Today, the magnitude of the violence has diminished, but massacres do still take place. Beginning in July [2000], reports of collective killings have again begun to surface.   Innocent vacationers, shepherds, and defenseless villagers are again being targeted in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign to cancel out any claim that the country is on the path to normalization.”

So far the indications are not good that the current government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is willing and/or capable of restoring an adequate human rights situation or bringing those responsible to justice.  For one thing, the rate of killings has slowly begun to approach the bad days of the worst of the crisis. Moreover  “The fate of the 4,000 disappeared individuals remains unknown…no independent inquires into the assassination of 58 journalists have bee carried out and not a single assassin of journalists has been caught alive and brought to justice: to this day, also, no one is convinced that the truth has been uncovered about who was behind the assassination of President Boudiaf in June 1992, or who ordered and carried out the assassination of ex-prime minister Kasdi Merbah, in August 1993, who slaughtered seven Italian sailors on July 7, 1994, who was behind the Air-France hijacking in December 1994 and the Paris bombings of July 1995, who carried out the kidnapping and assassination of seven French monks in Algeria in May 1996, who assassinated labor leader Abdelhaq Benhamouda in January 1997, who was behind the assassination of the popular Berber singer, Lounes Matoub, on June 25, 1998, or who assassinated FIS leader Abeelkader Hachani on November  22, 1999. “  

from “The Algerian Tragedy Continues” by Ahmed Bouzid, Z Magazine, December 2000; Ahmed Bouzid is President of Algeria Watch International, a Philadelphia based human rights organization (www.pmwatch.org/awi/ -- awi@zworg.com)

The Dirty War

from “Arabs Slaughter Arabs in Algeria,” by Daniel Ben Solomon. Ha’aretz  [Israel].  April 20, 2001.

Confirmation of Algerian government involvement in the mass killings in Algeria came in a book published in France by Habib Souaidia, a former officer in the special forces of the Algerian army. His book, “The Dirty War: The testimony of a former officer of the special forces of the Algerian army, 1992-2000” published in February 2001, embarrassed the Algerian military. They hastened to denounce its contents and the author as a criminal and a traitor.

Habib Souaidia recounts how the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) gained political strength by capitalizing on the corruption of the Algerian government, the partie unique – the sole party --which had been in power for 30 years. In June 1990 the FIS won sweeping victories in local elections.  However they alarmed much of the public and the military when the newly installed Islamist leaders announced a ban on women’s bathing and restrictions on men’s bathing. Many feared that if the FIS were to win the upcoming general elections, Islamic rule would keep women from working, from educational opportunities. Also, many feared that cigarettes and alcohol would be banned by the Islamic authorities.

Souaidia was in a position to observe first hand the reaction of the military to the emergent Islamists. “The country must not fall into the hands of the Islamists,” General Mohammed Bousharab warned a group of cadets at the officers’ academy.  “Algeria is relying on you. You are the pillars of the homeland and you must save it from its enemies.”

While Second Lieutenant Habib Souaidia acknowledges that “most of the acts of killing were carried out by Islamic Front people,” he presents eyewitness evidence of the role of the Algerian army.  In one instance he was ordered to guard a truck on the way to a village where a massacre subsequently took place. At a certain moment he peeked inside and saw “the silhouettes of” dozens of commando fighters armed to the teeth. He was told that they were on their way to a special mission. Two days later, he says, there were headlines in the press: “Islamic attack in Dawar Azatariya [the village in question]. Dozens killed in the massacre.”  Souaidia felt that he had been an accomplice to a terrible crime.

Souaidia’s book details his understanding of “the reciprocal slaughter. There was no torture that was not tried by both sides. The Islamic liquidators slew entire villages, and eradicateurs from the army…eliminated anyone suspected of belonging to or aiding the armed Islamic groups.”

Souaidia finally determined to desert to the West to expose what he called “the dirty war.”  In 1995, he was sentenced to prison on a charge of stealing spare parts. He felt he was being silenced for criticizing the army and the behavior of his fellows. He served a year in prison and after his release with the rank of private, he obtained a passport, fled to France and was subsequently granted political asylum.

 His book embarrassed the French government as well as the Algerians since both Presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac “stood behind the Algerian administration and backed its war against the Islamic fighters.” Souaidia charges that the French government is “at the top of the list of countries who are aiding the generals.”

See also “The Killing Fields: Who’s Behind the Massacres in Algeria?” by Elie Chalala, editor of Al Jadid, a review of Arab cultural arts, in In These Times, January 10, 1999.


U.S.: Reagan-Bush budget reductions contribute to crisis in public health

During the 12 Reagan and Bush years, starting with the Omnibus Reconciliation Bill of 1981, tax revenues were cut by more than $787 billion, which in turn led to serious public health issues. The numbers of uninsured citizens skyrocketed, the spread of dangerous infectious diseases spread, and individuals were forced to shoulder a greater portion of public health requirements as opposed to community, responsibility for disease. This according to Laurie Garrett in The Collapse of Global Public Health, (Hyperion 2000). Garrett writes that every state public health department lost funding and personnel. From 1981 to 1993 budgets dropped an average of 25 percent.

Garrett charges that as a result of inadequate treatment programs and monitoring for tuberculosis, we have been confronted with the most frightening epidemic of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis in U.S. history, with the deaths including caregivers. President Reagan eliminated the Refugee Health Service, a watchdog agency guarding against imported pathogens. The increasing antibiotic resistance of common organisms in the United States and elsewhere  -- caused by unrestricted use of antibiotics heavily promoted by the pharmaceutical industry – has led to increased deaths among hospitalized patients.  Water supplies contaminated with a parasite, cryptosporidia have sickened thousands in Milwaukee, New York City and Washington, D.C. Five thousand Americans develop fatal food poisoning annually due to contaminated food. The list goes on and on.

 From a book review, “Code Blue,” by Charles van der Horst in the Washington Post National Weekly Edition, November 6, 2000.

NYC Water Supply in Jeopardy

"Two of New York City's most important reservoirs are not being adequately protected under an agreement to cut pollution that was signed [in 1997] by the city, state and communities around the upstate watersheds,” according to a report" released February 1, 1999 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private environmental group, cited by the New York Times.   (Andrew C. Revkin, "Water Agreement Is Not Shielding Vital City Reservoirs, Report Says," New York Times, February1, 1999)

"Although an ambitious $260 million contract has led to the purchase of more than 13,000 acres critical to the preservation of upstate reservoirs, the city has obtained only a single one acre tract near the Kensico Reservoir, a vital basin near White Plains that funnels water from the Catskills and Delaware River Valley -- 90 percent of the total supply."

"The Kensico, where the city had made buying land a top priority, is threatened by plans for subdivisions, pollution from a nearby airport, expanding corporate parks and a road-widening project, according to" the NRDC report. "'It's not one single villain, but the threat of death from a thousand cuts,' said Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer for the group, and a writer of the report."

"Similarly, he said, development is still advancing up the hillsides around the West Branch Reservoir, in Putnam County, which, like the Kensico is a conduit for some of the cleanest water in the system, flowing from reservoirs farther upstate. The West Branch and Kensico reservoirs act as settling and blending basins for water from the Catskills and Delaware Valley, but they are surrounded by fast-growing suburban development in Putnam and Westchester Counties.

"As a result, even as tens of millions of dollars are being spent by the city to fix septic fields, buy land and otherwise protect the more distant reservoirs, that work could be undone by pollution around the two small reservoirs through which the clean water flows, Mr. Goldstein said. In essence, according to the group's analysis, the city would be pouring clean water into a dirty glass."


Middle East: The West Bank: A Dustbin for Israeli Industrial Waste?

Some Palestinian West Bank towns have become "dustbins" for Israeli industrial wastes -- including toxic wastes -- raising cancer rates 5 to 10 times normal according to local Palestinian doctors and politicians. Dr. Abdul-Rahmen Abu-Hanih, who has been practicing medicine in the area for the last 11 years, has "witnessed a tenfold increase in the incidence of cancer -- mainly leukemia, prostate cancer and Hodgkin’s disease" in the town of Azzun reports the Manchester Guardian Weekly. (August 2, 1998, "Palestinians pay price for Israel's toxic waste," by Julian Borger in Azzun, the West Bank)

The Guardian reporter explains that the town is "a victim of its political geography...[It] is only 30 km from the industrial conurbation of Tel Aviv, but since it lies in the occupied West Bank, under army jurisdiction, Israeli waste-disposal laws are not fully enforced. So every few nights trucks appear from the west and empty their cargo on Azzun's doorstep."

"It is a pattern repeated in the nearby Palestinian towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarm -- forming a triangle of ecological desolation. And the effects could rebound on Israel itself. "Qalqilya and Tulkarm are on top of the most important water aquifers in the region,' said Mohammed al-Hmaidi, director general of the Palestinian Environment Authority (PEA). "It supplies both Israelis and the Palestinians. If it is polluted it will affect everyone."

The dumping "is driven by hard economics. According to Mr. al-Hmaidi of the PEA, it costs about $65 to hire a driver -- usually a Palestinian -- to dump a five-ton truck of waste chemicals in the West Bank. To dispose of the same volume at Ramat Hovay in the Negev desert, Israel's only approved dump site for toxic chemicals, costs more than $11,000.

"Dumps are being closed in Israel, increasing the incentive to go and dump on the West Bank," said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of the environmental action group Ecopeace.

"Environmentalists say the West Bank is suffering the overspill effects of a profound Israeli ecological crisis. The seriousness of the situation was brought home in July 1997 when a bridge over the polluted Yarkon river collapsed during an international sports event. Four Australian athletes died, two of them from simply swallowing the toxic water. Another 15 year old victim is still in hospital."

"It is not just waste that is flowing across the paradoxically named `Green Line' between Israel and the Palestinian territories. As Israel tries to curb pollution, whole factories are on the move to cheaper, under-policed sites." According to Mr. Hmaidi, “`There is an ongoing process of transferring dirty industries, such as aluminum, asbestos, paint-making and pesticides, from Israel, where there is public resistance to them, to the West Bank."

"The Gishurei Industries pesticide factory is a vivid example. After Israeli environmental protests, it moved about 10 years ago from Tel Aviv to Tulkarm [in the West Bank], where it now pumps a daily cloud of waste products over the Palestinian neighborhood 50m away."

Poverty in America

"The Littlest Poor" (from The Nation, August 10/17, 1998)

"The proportion of children under six, living in poverty has risen 12 percent over the past two decades from a little over one in five to nearly one in four. So reports a study by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University's School of public health....Researchers Neil Bennett and Jiali Li discovered that half the rise occurred in California, New York and Texas -- from 1.2 million to 2 million. For the United States as a whole, the total rose from 4.4 million to 5.9 million. "


German Immigration Issues (1997)

"Now roughly 7.1 million of Germany's population of 82 million or almost 9 percent are foreigners, the highest proportion in Europe, far ahead of the continental average of 5 percent and well above that of such countries as France (5.7 percent) and Britain (3.8 percent), according to an article in the New York Times. ("Like it or Not, Germany Becomes a Melting Pot" New York Times, November 30, 1997 by Alan Cowell)

In 1960, the foreign population of Germany was 1.2 percent….More than 60 percent of legally registered foreigners under 18 were born in this country, a phenomenon that German officials call "immigration by birth.”

Germany's official immigrant numbers "does not reflect untold numbers of clandestine immigrants, largely from African And Eastern Europe"

Turks, Yugoslavs and Italians make up a "settled community of around 3.4 million -- two million from Turkey -- but the ranks of Germany's foreign population have also swollen with war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, asylum-seekers from many parts of the world and East Europeans drawn to the Continent's traditional economic powerhouse. Berlin alone has a Russian population estimated at 100,000. And Italians who first arrived as guest workers now have automatic rights under European Union rules to live and work in any of the Union's 15 members countries including Germany." Germany's unemployment stands at a record 4.5 million.


U.S.: Toxic Waste Fertilizer

"Under the guise of "recycling," millions of pounds of toxic waste are shipped each year from polluting industries to fertilizer manufacturers and farmers, who use toxic waste laden with dioxin, lead, mercury and other hazardous chemicals as raw material for fertilizers applied to U.S. farmland according to Multinational Monitor, "Behind the Lines,"  (April 1998’ http://www.essential.org/monitor/monitor.html; email: monitor@essential.org).

"According to an analysis of federal and state data released in March [1998] by the Environmental Work Group (EWG), between 1990 and 1995 more than 450 fertilizer companies or farms in 38 states received shipments of toxic waste totaling more than 270 million pounds....”Not only does the EPA allow these chemicals to be used in the fertilizers that go on our crops, in most states farmers and consumers don't even have the right to know what's being used,' says Richard Wiles, the author of the study."

"... In a series of investigative articles, the Seattle Times has documented the nationwide use of cadmium, lead, arsenic, dioxins, radionuclides and other hazardous waste in fertilizer. Tests by the State of Washington found that some fertilizers contained very high levels of dioxin -- 100 times higher than the level allowed for treated Superfund sites in the state.”  Some "states are scrambling to plug regulatory loopholes. [However], most of the proposals would still not provide consumers with [adequate] information [nor would they] put the burden on fertilizer companies to prove that their products are safe."


Corporate Rights Can Wrong the Public (1996)

No right to know about bovine growth hormone in milk?

US courts have upheld the free speech rights of corporations to prevail over the rights of the public to find out what is in their milk. An editorial in Multinational Monitor (October 1996) attacked an August 1966 ruling by a "a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit" invalidating a Vermont law requiring milk produced with bovine growth hormone (rBST) to be specially labeled on the grounds that it would violate dairy manufacturer' free speech rights. In dissent, Circuit Judge Leval wrote that milk producers "do not wish consumers to know that their milk products were produced by use of rBST because there are consumers who, for various reasons, prefer to avoid rBST."

Multinational Monitor, in its October 1996 issue, pointed out how  U.S. first Amendment free-speech rights can actually allow corporate interests to prevail over the public's. In this case, it has prevented consumers from finding out what is in their milk. "A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in August that the implementation of a Vermont law requiring milk produced with bovine growth hormone to be specially labeled would violate dairy manufacturers' constitutional right not to speak...."

In dissent, Circuit Judge Leval wrote that under the constitution, corporations' commercial speech rights primarily concern truthful disclosure -- the very goal the milk producers sought to undermine. He added: "Notwithstanding their self-righteous references to free expression, the true objective of the milk producers is concealment. They do not wish consumers to know that their milk products were produced by use of rBST because there are consumers who, for various reasons, prefer to avoid rBST."

The Multinational Monitor editorial concluded that "a more prudent approach to the corporate speech rights issue is to ground protections for corporations in the public's right to know. Where categories or types of corporate speech advance the public interest by providing truthful information, they should be protected; where they do not, they should not."


Tropical Inhabitants Devour World’s Endangered Species (1998-1999)

special to DESIP by Melody Sherosky

North Sulawesi markets are packed with Indonesia’s endangered animals, dead and alive. Poor and desperate villagers have resorted to hunting for any animals they can catch, from fruit bats to the crested black macaques. In Southeast Asia, animals new to science have been found in the markets, being sold as food. “We’re about to lose a lot more species, no doubt about it,” says leading Indonesian conservationist, Tony Sumampau, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal (“Desperate Indonesians Devour Country’s Trove of Endangered Species,” October 26, 1998, by Peter Waldman, Bitung Indonesia).

The International market for bushmeat is huge. Most of the animals killed in Indonesia are sold to foreigners on shore leave near Port Bitung, 1,500 Miles NE of Jakarta. “Prices have tripled for monkey,” says a dock side chef. “Koreans ask for snake and monkey stew. Taiwanese like brains.” In the food market, monkeys go for less than 100,000 Rupiah ($13) each, and often for not much more than common meat, like wild pig. The rapidly developing market for “exotic” animal cuisine is playing off of Indonesia’s current economic hardship. Now it seems that “Indonesia’s economic crisis is breeding an ecological one.”

The increase of trade has been magnified by oil and logging companies building access roads through forest areas. Not only did this make it easier for non-native hunters, but oil and logging workers saw a way to make extra money by selling bushmeat on the side. A select few logging companies in Congo and Zaire have begun checking the trucks of employees for bushmeat, and even firing offenders, but most logging companies feel threatened by environmental protection laws.

The Congo is home to 10 monkey species, and 150 other mammal species. Indonesia has more plant and animal species than almost anywhere in the world, second only to Brazil. Of the 515 mammals residing in Indonesia, 36% are found nowhere else. The lush territory has been hunted for years by native villagers without severe consequences, but now they are being joined in the forest by city hunters and men from distant villages (as a result of deforestation). Further, where hunting used to be done with bow and arrow, rifles, traps and search lights now aid the hunter. In the fierce competition, natives are struggling to sustain their families. They often spend the money they make on more traps, more guns, to try to keep up with city and commercial hunting groups.

City people in Central Africa are eating bushmeat because cow and chicken prices have been rising. A 1999 two part NPR report from the Congo by John Nielsen, entitled “Bushmeat” described forests with no sound; the animals there have been “vacuumed” in order of size, monkeys and large mammals first, working down to snakes, lizards and birds. Carl Amman, a photojournalist in the Congo, reports that two and a half tons of bushmeat arrive on the train to Camaroon every morning. Everyone there knows it is illegal, but it is ignored. The Journal of Science reports that in 1999 more than 1 million tons of bushmeat will be killed and eaten in Africa. As reporter Nielsen commented, “that kind of harvest cannot last.”

Another ongoing ecological disaster is the "dynamite fishing" occurring on Indonesia's Island coasts, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The coastal area, considered the richest marine resource in the world, is torn apart by blasts that kill entire coral colonies and hundreds of fish. An Australian marine biologist, Mr. Vernon, was recently in the area and reported dynamite blasts every 15 to 30 minutes. Coral and smaller fish are also killed by cyanide used to stun and catch larger fish live.

Some of the threat to on-reserve hunting in Indonesia is by local hunters, who do not understand why they can’t hunt on land that their families have inhabited for hundreds of years. The village of Bingaguminan is located at the edge of Tangkoko Nature Reserve, and men from the village take “orders” for baby monkey or fruit bat.  They see nothing wrong with selling meat to supports their families. They have little incentive to abide by national preservation laws, since they receive little in the way of government assistance.

With over 200 million people, population pressure in Indonesia, in conjunction with endemic poverty and periodic economic crises make it difficult for the government to devote resources to conservation laws. Many government protected forests are being clear cut for wood and to plant cash crops. Many animals, like the elephant and rhinoceros, have been pushed into small reserves by growth of rubber and palm-oil plantations built on forest land. In Sumatra, rangers in Way Kambas National Park have been shot at by troops poaching in the area. Three of the park’s 37 known tigers have been killed by recent poaching, and a tiger slaughterhouse was found in the backyard of a local police chief (who was arrested and released three weeks later).

Similar eradication of animals happened in Europe and America, but the killing “frenzy” there took a century to reach such levels, whilst Indonesia is on the way to accomplishing a similar result in 20 years. “The destruction of Indonesia’s ecosystems is a biological tragedy without parallel in human history,” says a World Wild Fund for Nature scientist, Timothy Jessup. “In terms of species extinction, nothing of this scale has happened since an asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs 60 million years ago.”


GM Foods Part of Every American Household

Special to DESIP, by Melody Sherosky

Since at least 1994, Americans have been eating genetically modified (GM) food. Nor do consumers have any way of knowing whether the genes of bacteria, viruses, insects, plants and animals have been introduced into the corn, soy and dairy products they eat since labeling is not permitted. The citizens of other countries are not in the same situation since such countries as Brazil, Japan, India, Great Britain and other European nations, have been banning or effectively labeling genetically modified foods. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has done nothing to hinder the sale of such foods in the United States, nor is food labeling permitted by US government agencies.

The lead company in producing and creating genetically modified crops is Monsanto, a St. Louis based “chemical giant.” Others major players include Novartis, Dow, DuPont, AgrEvo and Zeneca. Monsanto’s New Leaf Superior Potato is registered as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The New Leaf Potato contains the genes from Basillus Thuriengenesis (Bt) bacteria which produces a protein toxin that is deadly to beetles. No mention of Bt or genetic manipulation are on the potato’s label, even though consumers might be dubious about eating a food that is legally a pesticide. The legal loophole Monsanto found is that its Bt potatoes are not labeled as pesticides. The EPA says that any labeling on the potato would be the FDA’s responsibility since it will be eaten as food. But the FDA says that it can’t label the potato since it cannot list pesticides on food labels because such labeling is prohibited by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Sold on its own as a pesticide, Bt has a warning label that tells consumers not to inhale it and to keep it from open wounds.

In the creation of the New Leaf Potato, Monsanto had to try gene placement in thousands of potatoes before getting it right. When a new gene is placed into a plant it may go to an unexpected place in the plant’s DNA. In the process, thousands of plants may be created with the wrong combination and may result in genetic freaks of nature. One would assume that precautions are taken to make sure that none of these genetic mix-ups get into the environment. But in the spring of 1997 Monsanto accidentally released canola seed that had an “unapproved” gene in it. A few newspapers carried brief articles on the canola seed recall, but the mistake was not widely publicized. Although Monsanto told reporters that the recall was for a small amount, it told the Evaluation Branch of the Biotechnology Strategies and Coordination Office of the Canadian Government that it was recalling 60,000 bag units of canola seed, enough to seed 600,000 to 750,000 acres of land. Some of the seed had already been planted by the time the recall was issued. Brewster Kneen, of RAM’S HORN, a  Canadian food-system newsletter, pointed out that it takes a long time to produce enough of the specialized seed for 60,000 bags, so  the problem apparently went unnoticed for quite some time.

The genetic code is like an ecosystem, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin told The New York Times (“Playing God in the Garden”, Michael Pollan, October 25, 1998). “You can always intervene and change something in it, but there’s no way of knowing what all the downstream effects will be or how it might affect the environment. We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don’t get one rude shock after another.” Indeed, worst case scenarios have already come about from genetic tampering. In 1989 a Japanese firm marketed L-Tryptophan, an amino acid produced from a genetically-engineered bacteria. Unexpected trace elements in the GM L-Tryptophan began to attack people’s immune system. The result was a new and extremely painful disease, eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), which resembled scleroderma. Five to ten thousand people fell ill from the trace element of L-Tryptophan in their bodies, many were permanently disabled and 37 people died.

Many are calling for extensive testing of GM products before they are introduced into the environment. Rachel’s Environment Health Weekly (# 549; June 5, 1997; www.rachel.org) argues that without such testing, their effects cannot “be understood. The simple view, that genes control only one characteristic of a bacterium, plant or animal has been shown to be false. Genes contain a potential that can be expressed in various ways, depending upon the environment in which the gene grows. Thus a gene may develop in one way in one environment and another way in another environment.” Rachel’s analysis seems to suggest that even with extensive laboratory testing, we will not be able to predict the result of introducing such genes into our environment.

As an example, the use of the Bt potato raises the question of the unintended consequences of genetic engineering. Bt is found normally in soil in small concentrations and its presence helps to control insect populations. The new Bt potato is certain over time to promote resistance to Bt in insects. Farmers who have worked to keep their crops pesticide free may face serious consequences when insect populations develop new resistance to such modification. Further, farmers growing Monsanto potatoes must sign a document agreeing not to save the eyes of the potatoes for re-planting. Monsanto has brought legal action against farmers who have replanted. The company claims ownership of that breed of potato.

Corn is more complicated than potatoes since it cross pollinates. Corn from farmers in a GM free field might cross-pollinate with Monsanto corn, and once again, Monsanto argues that the affected corn becomes their property. In Sweden, organically grown corn was found to be “genetically contaminated.” This occurred in 1999, in a county that does not permit farmers to plant GM crops. Apparently corn from outside of Sweden cross-pollinated the Swedish crops.

The canola seed Monsanto has been marketing is one of its “Roundup Ready” varieties. Roundup, a crop pesticide, is Monsanto’s most profitable product, bringing in $1.5 billion a year. Many of their new crops are genetically altered to be resistant to Roundup. That way, farmers can use much more Roundup, killing weeds but leaving the crop alive (and covered with chemicals). The FDA has deemed Monsanto products “generally” safe, but they do no independent testing and they use test results provided by Monsanto, despite some contrary evidence. For example, in February 1999, Dr. Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland released findings that indicated that GM potatoes fed to rats stunted growth, caused inadequate immune systems and damaged major organs, including kidney, spleen and stomach. Despite Dr. Pusztai’s 35 years of experience and his hundreds of scientific publications, a bitter media campaign was waged against him by the British government of Tony Blair which strongly supports the introduction of GM foods despite popular opposition. Administrative action was taken against Dr. Pusztai due to his findings related to Bt potatoes.

Monsanto’s main interest is to “sell as much as possible,” according to Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, in a New York Times interview (October, 1998). “Assuring [public safety] is the FDA’s job,” the Monsanto executive asserted.” The difficulty is that the FDA uses Monsanto’s own tests as valid proof of their safety. Further, since the inception of GM products, former Monsanto officials have been working with and for the FDA. In 1994, ex-Monsanto workers were working for the FDA, approving products they themselves had worked on while at Monsanto. This cooperation between industry and the regulatory agencies supposed to oversee the industry was detailed in an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch by Bill Lambrecht, entitled “House Members Urge BST Inquiry; Conflict Alleged in Three FDA Officials’ past work with Monsanto” (April 19, 1994). Monsanto also gives generously to politicians including presidential candidates of both major parties and to selected members of Congress who are involved in food safety issues.

Besides Britain and Sweden, most European countries are active in regulating GM foods, some banning them outright. The European Union in its entirety placed a ban on GM corn and the seven largest grocery chains in six European countries went GM free in April 1999. India’s Supreme Court has banned GM imports and has burned down crop fields suspected of being genetically “contaminated. ” Brazil, too, has banned GM imports, and Japan has required labeling for all GM food.

Most countries banning GM foods, especially those in the third world, are under pressure to reverse the bans. The U.S. has recently been trying to use international trade laws to force countries to accept GM U.S. exports. In the U.S. the only way to avoid the now mainstreamed products is to eat organic foods, which can be difficult and expensive. In the United States, genetically engineered crops, are planted, grown and eaten under well-known brand names like Quaker, Frito Lay and Kellogg’s. Dr. Pusztai, notes that it is “very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs.”


Sources not mentioned in the text or not fully cited:

*The Ecologist magazine devoted Vol. 28, No. 5 (Sept./Oct.) completely to Monsanto: “The Monsanto Files; Can We Survive Genetic Engineering?”

*Michael Pollan,  “Playing God in the Garden” New York Times October 25, 1998

*Paul Waugh, “British Stores Tesco and Unilever Ban Genetically Manipulated Products,” The Independent London, England April 28, 1999

Aya Takada “Japan Label Plan Seen Affecting U.S. GM Crop Output”, Reuters World Report August 23, 1999

Dr. Pusztai’s Web Page *http://www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/A.Pusztai/




http://www.rachel.org   – Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, articles #549, 622, 649,


Demographic, Environmental
Security Issues Project