You've heard the old adage: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Well, what about a third time?
The same chemical companies championing what they now call "life sciences"—what you may know as biotech—are the ones that once told us there'd be better living through chemicals and that pesticides would feed the world.
In the program called "Trade Secrets," which originally aired on PBS in March, Bill Moyers revealed that for years many well-known chemical companies—Union Carbide, Dow Chemical Co., Du Pont—have made products that purportedly made our lives better but in truth had a toxic secret. Using internal industry documents, Moyers uncovered a history of cover-ups by these companies regarding the poisonous and often deadly effects of their products.
Apparently, toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of everyday products, such as plastics and hair spray, were allowed at unsafe levels, even after company scientists warned about exposure and workers were falling ill or dying. In 1959, an internal memo from Dow revealed that extended exposure to one of its products would produce appreciable injury and went on to say, "As you can appreciate, this opinion is not ready for dissemination yet, and I would appreciate it if you would hold it in confidence."
Another secret memo from a meeting of chemical industry bigwigs revealed them speaking as though they knew their products caused cancer. Collectively, the leaders decided to withhold the information from a new government commission formed to review chemical hazards because of the possible consumer repercussions in the marketplace. Basically, they said profits are more important than human life.
That's once. The second lie regards the agricultural poisons/pesticides Rachel Carson warned about in 1962 in her book Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1994). According to the World Health Organization, pesticides poison 3 million people every year. Two hundred thousand of them die. Of the top 12 pesticide manufacturers in the world, U.S.-based Monsanto ranks No. 2 and Du Pont No. 3. Dow holds down the No. 8 spot.
Dow, the maker of Dursban, the most widely used insecticide in the United States, lobbied for years to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the tenfold safety factor called for in the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. This would have forced the regulatory powers of the EPA to use a tenfold safety criteria on children's exposure to pesticides unless there was reliable science to back lessened restrictions. Dow did this even when its own scientists recognized the danger to children.
The company was successful for many years until June 2000, when the EPA finally banned the toxic chemical from home use. But even with this victory, the government still allowed any retail store with remaining stock inventoried to sell it. And it still can be used on a limited basis in agriculture, under the name Lorsban. Now Dow is putting advertisements in farming magazines with pictures of empty farm stands and the caption "Life Without Lorsban," even though Dow itself makes a safer alternative.
And now for the third act. These agrochemical giants are all heavily investing in—you guessed it—the biotechnology industry. They call it "life science," but what's really going on is an experiment on the plants and people of the world. Billions of dollars are being spent today on marketing efforts to convince the buying public of the benefits and safety of this new technology.
One of the supposed benefits of genetically modified food is its ability to feed the growing world population. These new products are supposed to be the answer to all of our food problems, but didn't the chemical companies say the same thing during the "green" (aka pesticide and fertilizer) revolution? These wolves in scientists' clothing who fund the research, manipulate the DNA, then patent the life and seeds are trying to fool us again.
The alarm is going off, and I wonder how many of us are paying attention. Perhaps we should strengthen the campaigns in our stores and help get the word out into public forums. Let our distributors know that we won't support the biotechnology lie by not purchasing any foods that aren't non-GMO. Join the Organic Trade Association's call for a moratorium on GMOs. Invite your local political representatives to lunch and let them know how you feel.
Everyone together now, as The Who once sang, "We won't get fooled again!"
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 8/p. 34