The Coastal Post - November 1999

Monsanto Terminates the Terminator

By Carol Sterritt

Over the last three years, many environmental groups, enlightened governments, and world-class activists have taken a stand against a developing technology called the "Terminator Seed." This technology involves genetically modifying the inner structure of a plant's DNA so that its seed would be sterile. The most obvious concern was that farmers in the Third World would not be able to afford a yearly purchase of seed. There was also a real concern over the fact that this seed was exported into countries without being labeled, so those in agriculture could not even determine if what they were planting was indeed this new "franken" seed.

Protests have been mounted not only by individual activist groups but by entire nations. The European Union tried to ban any meat products altered with the bovine growth hormone from entering their markets, only to find stiff United States tariffs imposed on European shipments here. Cote d'Ivorie, Norway, and India, petitioned the United Nations to have this activity stopped. But to no avail. Activists in England now face possible jail time for digging up a field or two of experimental rape seed (from which canola oil is produced).

Behind every objection to these food and seed modifications lurked the largest, scariest concern. Like a Pandora's Box of agricultural affliction, once the new technologies were unleashed, there might be no going back. A field of genetically-engineered (GE) seed could, through normal pollen transmission, affect a neighboring crop, inducing the genetic modifications simply through the pollen exchange. Those in favor of organic farming were alarmed. And some of the modifications, such as the RoundUp-ready soybean, indicate that higher levels of pesticides will create a burden for the soil microbes which sustain the earth's topsoil's fertility.

The Terminator Seed is actually a patent owned jointly by Delta and Pine Land Company, and the United States Agriculture Department. As the Monsanto Company has been in the process of acquiring Delta, much of the finger-pointing has fallen on Monsanto itself. When examining Monsanto's track record, few people concerned about health issues and ethical behavior cannot be upset that Monsanto's image is so often tarnished. Monsanto has devised many products that are a bit amiss of any type of track safety record. Two of my least favorites are RoundUp (covered in last month's Coastal Post articles) and Lysol Disinfectant Spray. The disinfectant has several components that fall into the chemical category of nonylphenol. Nonylphenols are estrogen mimickers. Nonylphenols have the ability to amplify and speed up the process of breast cancer cell growth. Ironically, this product is sprayed all over the very places that women who have breast cancer must go in the hallways, bathrooms, lab areas, hospital rooms, etc. where hospital personnel use the product daily.

There is an additional threat hidden inside Lysol Disinfectant Spray. In reading over a major report from Cate Jenkins, Ph.D., of the Environmental Protection Agency, it was made clear that Monsanto covered up the fact that dioxin contaminates this spray disinfectant. Because of this cover-up, there has been no ban of this product, or even indications of its toxic existence in this product. Not so much as a warning label from the U.S. Surgeon General! Dioxin is currently the holder of the dubious achievement of being the most feared item on the SuperFund list and no amount, however small, is said to be safe for human consumption. Nor is any ad campaign brought about to discourage parents from using this disinfectant spray in areas close to their newborns. In fact, one suggested use for the product is the diaper pail, which is often in the infant's own room or adjoining bathroom. Although this is speculation on my part, I imagine that Cate Jenkins will soon find herself banished from the halls of the EPA, as the revolving door that exists between government and big industry does not like whistle blowers like her.

Now for some good news: On October 4th, 1999, Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro wrote a letter to the Rockefeller Foundation, explaining that Monsanto would answer that organization's and others' objections by holding back on the Terminator Seed's introduction into the world market.

Monsanto has also announced that despite its announced apprehension about employing the Terminator, it will still pursue the course of buying out Delta. The purchase price is said to be 1.9 billion dollars in stock, plus assumption of debt. The stock market has sad things to say about Monsanto. Its stock has fallen at least 30 percent over the last months.

Additionally, governments across the world have met the Monsanto threat by taking some aggressive steps of their own to achieve a market foothold that will offer food safety to their population. The Japanese have announced that they will create a central soybean processing plant in the state of Ohio that will handle only organic, non-genetically-altered soybeans, to be shipped back to that nation island. European Union scientists have prepared documents and research studies that show that the bovine growth hormone is carcinogenic. Several South American countries have shut the door to such "franken-altered" foodstuffs. It is only in the United States that consumers are left in the dark about Monsanto. Our media leaves unaired the needed discussions of Monsanto and the other conglomerates whose advertising dollars guarantee the needed silence.

My research on The Web has turned up one other dismal Monsanto offering: that of Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet. This substance acts like a drug and is a drug, but who would offer their children a Diet Coke if the cola can mentioned that fact. Since its inception into the American diet back in the 1980's, it has steadily maintained a number one or two position as the product receiving the most consumer health complaints by the Center for Disease Control. Negative reports include memory loss, headaches, dizziness, ear buzzing, vertigo, nausea, macular degeneration, and the substance's foul ability to afflict the human body so that it mimics Multiple Sclerosis, which will go away when the patient no longer consumes anything containing Aspartame.

Also reported after ingesting Aspartame: behavioral disturbances, neuritis, vision tunneling, insomnia and pancreatic inflammation.

To quote the website ( "Aspartame was approved over the objections of numerous independent scientists, a Public Board of Inquiry, and FDA's own internal review team." Once approved, numerous FDA officials went on to high-paying jobs in the Aspartame industry.

The product is noted for its ability to break down into methyl alcohol when its environment reaches 86 degrees F. Since humans have a higher body temperature than that, this breakdown is assured. Further down its breakdown sequence, formaldehyde is created.

I remember when Aspartame was originally introduced to the public. The big hue and cry was that the product was nothing more than two amino acids which are normally found inside human beings. However, this picture was a false one. Although the two amino acids that make up Aspartame are indeed found in the human body, they are found with other substances as their receptors, and are not prone to the methyl alcohol or formaldehyde breakdown that is seen with Aspartame.

As time has gone on, and the public has become aware of dangers associated with Aspartame, Monsanto has come up with a substitute product, Neotame. Those of us critical of Aspartame are not thrilled with Neotame either. It is expected to pass into the food marketplace through Monsanto's ability to purchase a safety record for the product.

My own question is why all this needs to go on. A perfectly natural substance, stevia, exists. Stevia is a wonderful sugar substitute. A small amount of stevia leaf can sweeten massive amounts of liquid. It is healthy to drink or eat; unlike NutraSweet, which often encourages a user to crave carbohydrates, stevia actually turns off the body-mind connection that creates cravings for sugars or carbs.

Not surprisingly, this substance was basically banned. However, I have heard that the ban has been lifted and that it is available in health food stores. I have also heard that places like Seeds of Change offer it as a plant, so that a user can grow their own. Over the next few months, I will be attempting to find this item, and will let you know just how sweet it is.

Coastal Post Home Page