Thursday, September 07, 2006
MAD COWS AND ENGLISHMEN
In recent years mad cow disease has wiped out a number of farms, caused havoc in the countryside, and killed human beings. Most of this has taken place in England. The explanation was that cows ate poisoned meat, or that it spread from a Chinese takeaway.
Now there is more evidence on the table, and it points not at UK farming practices or Chinese eateries, but at a company based in the US which has caused trouble all over the world: Monsanto.
Kirk Azevedo, a former employee of that firm, started asking questions in 1997, and was sidelined at the company. It was then that Bt cotton was sold world-wide, a cotton that was strangely engineered with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium. With this mutation, every cell of Bt cotton produces a toxic protein. A second form of manipulated cotton was sold by the company, a Roundup Ready (registered trademark) variety, made to withstand toxic doses of Roundup.
In 1997 a Monsanto scientist found proteins not normally produced in genetically altered cotton; however, no safety assessment was carried out.
These new proteins then made the jump from plant to animal, as parts of the cotton plant were then fed to cattle. What happens is that the 'folded' protein, known also as a 'prion', causes other proteins inside the cow to stumble, and, further up the food chain, a species known as Homo sapiens comes down with the disease.
Some time after the UK mad cow scare, there were cases of this in other parts of the world, but no explanation was offered. Certainly one cannot blame a Chinese takeaway somewhere in the north of England, but a scientific mind might start asking questions of Monsanto.
So where is the investigation? Azevedo was not only stonewalled by Monsanto, but also at the California Agriculture Commission, and later at the University of California. He quit in disgust in January of 1998.
The apathy, which one might expect in a state that grows 1m acres of cotton a year, crossed the pond just as mad cow disease has done. In the UK, where not a single acre of cotton is sown, as it is a warm weather fiend, there has been no real noise about this. Talking this over with a friend of mine in the hemp seed business this week, I was told that not only apathy, but collusion exists. He related an incident in which illegal GM farms were found, but rather than have the law act to close down the criminals, the police sent helicopters to intimidate the local citizens.
I get the picture, a blind man can see it from a mile away. The government acting against its citizens so as to enrich foreign companies. This is deeply distressing, and I will continue to call Defra and other agencies here and ask them why they are not doing their job; no doubt, there will be the usual round of pathetic excuses, hostile press secretaries and total idiots wondering why anyone gives a damn.
Anyone else concerend about the issue is encouraged to call David Miliband's office at 020 7219 3000.