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Organic Food Fights

I would like to provide a little balance to a recent opinion piece by Kris Schnee [“Frankenstein’s Soybeans”, Oct. 15]. I thought it might be useful to point out a few facts about Monsanto and how these facts relate to certain assumptions implicit in Schnee’s piece.

First, Schnee writes, “Will GM [genetically modified] crops help to feed the world’s six billion people, or threaten to starve them with superweeds, or poison them?” In the context of his piece, this question might lead a reader to think that GM crops are designed to help feed people. Think again. Ironically, Monsanto was in the news a mere week before this opinion piece because it finally (at least partially) relented in its attempts to market so-called “terminator” seeds [CNN, October 7, 1999 -- “‘Terminator’ victory a small step in long war”]. Terminator seeds are genetically engineered so that the resulting plants will only produce sterile seeds. Such a technology, while possibly highly profitable to seed companies, is extremely unlikely to “help feed the world’s six billion people.”

Second, Schnee writes, “Companies operating in America will probably have the choice of voluntarily choosing to label their GM-based food, or having labeling forced on them by law.” He is ignoring a third way, which is to have a lack of labeling forced on companies operating in America. Monsanto has been at the forefront of this exciting option in its forays against opponents of bovine growth hormone. As noted in a 1996 Business Ethics magazine article, “Monsanto also has used lawsuits and threats of lawsuits to prevent dairy farmers and retailers who want to identify their milk as bst-free” (bst is a particular bovine growth hormone). Even the United States Department of Agriculture got in on the act last year; they proposed national organic foods labeling standards which would have allowed GM crops to be labeled organic and would have made any alternate organic labeling which excluded such crops illegal.

James R. Hockenberry G