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North Carolina farmer: 'When will we learn!!'

(Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following pieces come from the Data Transmission Network Corp. (DTN) in reaction to a story the news service ran in which it quoted biotech critic Dr. Charles Benbrook.

Biotech "Expert" Not Unbiased     11/27

  • Editor:

    I wanted to follow up with you on the recent articles that have appeared on DTN that quoted Charles Benbrook, a long-standing critic of biotechnology's applications in agriculture who has publicly aligned himself with numerous anti-biotech organizations including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), the Genetically Engineered Food Alert and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    The allegations that Benbrook raised are not only misleading, but factually inaccurate. It was disappointing to see DTN report on this misleading information.

    These allegations are from an individual who is fundamentally opposed to plant biotechnology and benefits this technology is currently providing to thousands of growers in the United States. These benefits were recently characterized by two reports this past summer. These reports were issued by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) ( http://www.ncfap.org/40CaseStudies.htm) and the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) ( http://www.cast-science.org/pubs/biotechcropsbenefit.pdf" target="_blank). In addition, a comprehensive set of safety assessments and benefits materials can also be found at the Monsanto website (http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/ layout/our_commitments/techpubsbio.asp).

    Furthermore, it is truly unfortunate that an agriculture-minded institution like Iowa State University would host Benbrook and provide the anti-biotech- nology proponent with a platform to spread this misleading information to growers and consumers. This is especially disappointing since only months ago Benbrook and the Genetically Engineered Food Alert labeled the American farmer as "less knowledgeable and unmotivated" decision makers who don't understand their own business. (http://www.gefoodalert.org/library/admin/ uploadedfiles/Bt_Premium_Price_What_Does_It_Buy_The.pdf and http://www.gefood alert.org/library/admin/uploadedfiles/When_Does_It_Pay_To_Plant_Bt_Corn.pdf.)

    Now, months later, Benbrook is labeled as "an expert". Charles Benbrook is certainly not an unbiased biotech expert. Several leaders from the United States premier grower organizations have also verified this.

    * Rick Tolman, National Corn Growers Association executive vice president and CEO, recently underscored this same notion when he wrote that Benbrook and the IATP are "not credible representatives for U.S. corn growers." ( http://www.ncga.com/news/releases/2001/december/news121301.htm)

    * Tony Anderson, recent president of the American Soybean Association, noted that "Dr. Benbrook is so intent on finding something wrong with biotech- nology, that he misses the big picture. There are always questions about new technology. As farmers growing food for a hungry world, we care very deeply about the safety and quality of our product, and we are committed to finding answers to the questions raised by biotechnology's critics. But this quest for knowledge should not undermine the positive environmental gains we have made using modern biotechnology." ( http://www.amsoy.org/newsroom/releases/ 2001%20releases/r050201.htm)

    Regards, Lee Quarles Public Affairs Manager, Monsanto

  • Dear Editor:

    Lee Quarles of Monsanto makes some good points in favor of biotech. Most of them originate from or are sponsored by the companies that are currently profiting from biotechnology and gaining total control over US seed and pesticide industries. Monsanto sees nothing wrong with GMOs and bad-mouths anyone in opposition to that company's domination of both the technology and the dispersal of the facts. Mr. Quarles goes so far as to condemn Iowa State and DTN for reporting anything other than the news according to Monsanto. Lest we forget, in the early days of biotech, many land grant universities contributed research on the subject. Much of that research was handed over to Monsanto and other companies that have patented and profited from the public domain.

    Mr. Quarles states "Charles Benbrook is certainly not an unbiased biotech expert." Am I expected to believe that Mr. Quarles is?

    The facts of biotechnology as applied to seeds and plants are this; there is no regulation of the seed industry in this country. When a new pesticide is introduced, it is only after years of research and the approval of a label regarding environmental impacts and proper usage of that pesticide, but both FDA and EPA have ruled that no label for biotech GMO seeds is warranted.

    Even though the plants produced by Monsanto are unique enough to patent, they are considered by regulators to be no different than any other plant. Yet, all across this country and in Canada, farmers who are found by Monsanto to have unauthorized genes present on their farms are prosecuted as ruthlessly for patent infringement as any polluter would be by EPA. More biotech won't feed the world's hungry. That's because the world's hungry are also the worlds poor, and people with no money cannot buy the most basic of foods, let alone expensive biotech seeds. The third world grows its own seed, but in the US we buy new seed at a rising cost, every year.

    The product that ASA and NCGA are defending is not a product of American farms; it is a product of a corporation that offers it's financial support to those organizations. That financial support is only a drop in the bucket compared to the money being made by marketing biotech to US growers. In the meantime, our competitors are using the controversy to hold both our exports and Monsanto's patent lawyers at bay.

    I'd like to offer my thanks to DTN for allowing a balanced forum where all the facts can be presented. Without your unbiased coverage, Mr. Quarles' job would be a whole lot easier.

    Richard R. Oswald Langdon, MO 64446

  • Dear Editor,

    I am writing in regard to the GMO discussion. I think there is merit on both sides as presented. Farmers have followed Monsanto's lead down the path of ease and cheap costs. Now there is nothing wrong with this if you can sell that product, but that is not exactly the reality of our situation.

    Most of the world will only buy GMO products as a last resort. Therefore, we are relegated to last place as sellers. Econ 101 says, the customer is always right, meaning, sell the customer what he wants to buy. Monsanto followed this rule and charged farmers dearly for their product. Based on their research, Monsanto felt farmers would buy their product, and we did. Where was our research as to whether we had a market for what we produced?

    The ACGA studied the benefits of GMO's to the farm economy and concluded that, due to lack of market acceptance, it has cost farmers millions more in lost markets than what was gained in cost savings. I think the American farmer has been taken to the cleaners once again, but at least it was " cheap and easy", right? It will not be "cheap and easy" to regain those lost markets that the rest of the world found dropped in their laps. WHEN WILL WE LEARN !!

    Wade Hubers Pantego, N. C.

  • Editor:

    I would like to comment on the article written by Lee Quarles of Monsanto on 11/27/02. In the article, Quarles is pointing the finger at Charles Benbrook as one who misleads the public with inaccurate facts. So let's see, we've got Monsanto on one side with NCGA and ASA riding shotgun for them, and folks like Charles Benbrook on the other who ask questions in the best interest of public safety and then is criticized for asking. Who do I believe if I am a producer of a commodity that harbors a gene of, Hepatitis B, TGEV, LT-B, Aprotinin, Antibodies Trypsin, Gus, Avidin, Starlink or any genetically modified plant? As a farmer, am I being used as a tool for the economic benefits of a large global company? Is that company putting safety first? Is my environment safe? Is our food safe?

    These questions bring more questions that need answers for not only the farmers, but consumers as well. I welcome Monsanto, NCGA, ASA or anyone else to answer these questions directly to this forum for public knowledge. I don't want to hear anything about how this new technology is going to benefit the farmer and save the hungry, we've heard that sidestep pitch before. I want straight forward answers in layman's terms.

    To the following questions: 1. What are the results of tests when any genetically modified (Bio-Pharmaceutical, Industrial) pollen drifts into a whirlwind that whisks pollen a thousand feet or more into the air and goes seven to eight miles and farther before contaminating a garden, edible food field, honey bee production, seed corn production field, a lake or stream, orchards and the air we breathe?

    2. What are the results of tests when these proteins and enzymes are found in the gut of humans, livestock, wildlife or pets?

    3. Is shed pollen a live protein/bactrin? If it is, how long does it stay active or pose a threat of contamination to our food or our health?

    4. What are the test results of wildlife spreading pollen, such as migratory birds flying to other geographical areas?

    There are many more questions of the unknown yet to be answered. Are a few thousand tests enough to answer almost four billion years of evolution? Who is conducting these tests and re-checking them?

    DDT and cigarettes were once thought to be safe by the public and were pushed by big business for their own economic benefit. How much cancer did we have before those chemicals and poisons were inducted into the again uninformed public? We can learn great things from that example. We must INFORM OURSELVES of ALL the facts from every source before accepting anything less. In ending, I'll leave you with this thought: Only Mother Nature is perfect and becomes imperfect when altered by man.

    Jerry Heithoff Elgin, Nebraska