6 May 2002
MEDIA BIAS/INDUSTRIAL WASTE/LET THEM EAT GM CORN
1. US: MEDIA OPINION PAGES PRESENT BIASED VIEW OF BIOTECH
2. OZ: INDUSTRIAL WASTE SOLD AS FERTILISER
3. CANADA: LET THEM EAT GM CORN (NO ONE ELSE WANTS)
1. U.S. MEDIA OPINION PAGES PRESENT BIASED VIEW OF BIOTECH
May 3, 2002
P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Thirteen of the largest newspapers and magazines in the United States have all but shut out criticism of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops from their opinion pages, according to a new report by Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.
The report, Biotech Bias on the Editorial and Opinion Pages of Major United States Newspapers and News Magazines, found an overwhelming bias in favor of GE foods not only on editorial pages, but also on op-ed pages, a forum usually reserved for a variety of opinions. In fact, the report found that some newspapers surveyed did not publish a single critical op-ed on GE foods and crops, while publishing several in support.
"It is a great disservice to the American public when the media filters out critical viewpoints on issues that are central to our times," said Anuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy. "This is an issue where there is significant difference of opinion among both scientists and the general public," she said, "and those differences must be represented in the media if the public is to be able to exercise its democratic right to make informed decisions about new technologies."
The report investigated 11 newspapers and three weekly news magazines between September 1999 and August 2001. Out of 40 op-eds, 31 supported GE foods and crops while only seven were critical. Two op-eds argued for labeling of GE foods. Newspaper editorials were united in supporting GE foods and crops and only diverged on the issue of labeling.
The report found that the arguments presented in support of GE crops could be grouped into several general categories:
*GE crops are good for the environment, or genetic engineering will create a world free of pesticides.
*We must accept GE crops and foods if we are to feed the poor in the Third World, because they offer the best way to boost agricultural productivity.
*There are no viable alternatives to GE crops and foods.
*GE crops are here to stay, so we should just accept them.
*The public already accepts GE, so what is all the fuss about?
*Trust scientists, they know best.
The report points out that these are essentially the same arguments used by the biotechnology industry in their advertising campaigns, and that there is an overwhelming lack of attention to widely expressed doubts concerning these arguments.
Such concerns include:
*GE crops in and of themselves may represent significant risks to the environment. In addition, the reduction of insecticide use in so-called "Bt-crops" may be short-lived, and herbicide-tolerant crops may lead to increased, rather than decreased use of hazardous pesticides.
*The productivity-enhancing potential of GE crops may be greatly overstated, in fact for some crops, like soybeans, there is evidence of reduced yields. Furthermore, GE crops may be unlikely to be appropriate for, adopted by or useful for poor farmers in the Third World.
*A significant body of research exists which demonstrates the proven potential -- to boost productivity, protect the environment and address hunger -- of alternatives in the realms of integrated pest management (IPM), sustainable agriculture, agroecology, policy reform, etc. This potential in many cases may be greater than that of GE crops and foods.
*There are potential health-risks of GE foods for consumers, which may not have been adequately evaluated before the approval of these products.
(Summaries of these arguments may be found at:
The papers surveyed were: The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, Newsday (New York), The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. The weekly news magazines were Time, Newsweek, and The Economist.
The report is based on searches conducted on the Nexis database using the search term "bioengineered foods or genetically modified foods or genetically engineered foods or biotechnology." The findings were reduced to "editorial or op-ed or opinion or commentary."
An HTML copy of the report can be found at:
A PDF version can be found at:
Source/contact: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy,
60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618; phone (510) 654-4400; fax (510)
654-4551; email email@example.com; Web site http://www.foodfirst.org/.
2. INDUSTRIAL WASTE SOLD AS FERTILISER
Sydney Morning Herald, May 6 2002
Big businesses across Australia are disposing of their industrial waste as fertilisers or soil conditioners to be spread on farms, vineyards and home gardens.
The material often contains potentially toxic substances and heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, chromium and lead.
State government agencies encourage the practice in the name of recycling and farmers embrace it because it delivers cheap fertiliser.
Corporations also can save millions of dollars in dumping costs.
Untreated slag from BHP's Port Kembla steelworks is being spread over dairy fields and crops in the southern tablelands.
Radioactive material from aluminium refineries in Western Australia is being poured onto big cattle stations. In Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, waste from zinc smelters, power stations, cement kilns and car-part manufacturers is turned into products for farms and home gardens.
The practice is perfectly legal.
In Australia, there is no national regulation of fertilisers and any material that has fertilising qualities can be labelled and used as such, even if it contains toxins and heavy metals.
There are no requirements to register the products with state agricultural departments or to stop them being marketed as organic, which some of them are.
The few state regulations controlling toxic heavy metals in fertilisers can disappear when an industrial waste is re-labelled as a soil conditioner.
The potential threat to human health posed by the waste is a matter of dispute.
Dr Mark Conyers, a soil scientist with the NSW Department of Agriculture, says it is time for a public debate on an issue which is unknown to most consumers, adding, "One of the things that disturbs me is that they give these apparently detailed analyses on their products, but they don't give you analysis on the bogymen [heavy metals]. It is like they are not there.
"My feeling is that these things should not be dumped on agricultural land until they have been deemed to be safe."
Lee Bell, a member of the National Environmental Consultative Forum, said there appeared to be a lack of regulation.
3. CANADIANS EAT CORN NO ONE ELSE WANTS
The Ottawa Citizen, May 5, 2002
Andrew Hartshorn of Kanata writes (regarding, Mandatory ethanol considered for gasoline, April 27) to say that it is no surprise that Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief and the governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba support this idea. Ethanol is made from distilled plant matter, commonly corn or wheat.
Canada is the world's largest producer of corn, and also of genetically modified corn, and world markets are drying up because the rest of the world does not want genetically modified corn. So where better to use the stuff than as a fuel?
In a related example, have other consumers noticed the scarcity of sunflower oils and olive oils, and the over-abundance of corn oil? Have they noticed that corn products are found in almost every consumer food now, as a starch or syrup?
While the rest of the world moves to sugar beets and cane sugar, we Canadians are forced to eat our own genetically modified corn in some form or another.
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