November 19, 2017

Biotechnology and global warming

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interview Edward Goldsmith for the “Democracy Now!” programme on Pacifica Radio, USA.

Broadcast 30 April 1999.

The original audio can be found here.

Background: In September 1998, The Ecologist produced a special issue called “The Monsanto Files: Can We Survive Genetic Engineering?” exposing the genetic engineering giant’s chequered history and environmental record.

Afraid of a potential lawsuit by Monsanto, the printing company destroyed all 15,000 copies just hours before it was due to be released.

A subsequent issue of The Ecologist looks at global warming, which it considers to be the most serious issue facing humankind.


Amy Goodman (presenter): From Pacifica Radio, this is “Democracy Now!” . . . A conversation with the publisher of The Ecologist about biotechnology and global warming, then Michael Lapsley, an ANC chaplain who survived an apartheid letter bomb, talks about the healing of memories. All that, and more, coming up on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”

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Amy Goodman: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” I am Amy Goodman, joined by our co-host, Juan Gonzalez. Welcome Juan . . . Well, yesterday, at the Project Censored Awards ceremony, we got a chance to meet Edward Goldsmith, who for 30 years has been the publisher of The Ecologist in London. He was there, presenting an award for one of the top-ten censored stories of 1998- about genetic engineered food that was so heavily suppressed that it had the opposite effect. Its own censors made his own story famous, around the world. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ed Goldsmith.

Edward Goldsmith: Thank you very much.

Amy Goodman: Well, before we talk about the world, and global warming, an issue that you have emphasized repeatedly, in your magazine, as well as your many books, I should also say that Teddy Goldsmith is widely regarded as one of the Fathers of the global environmental movement – awarded the Right Livelihood Award, often referred to as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, in 1991. He has co-authored something like 17 books, but one of his issues of The Ecologist magazine, which had a cover which said “The Monsanto Files: Can We Survive Genetic Engineering?” did not make it the first time around, to the readers of The Ecologist. Can you tell us what happened?

Edward Goldsmith: That is absolutely right. When our printer, who had been our printer for 26 years, saw the word “Monsanto” on the front cover of the magazine, they were struck with indescribable panic. Shaking with fear. They called their lawyer, and the lawyer said, “Whatever you do, do not deliver that issue to the Publisher, or you’ll get sued.” So what did they do? They shredded the entire issue.

So we had to go around, and look for another printer, and that wasn’t easy. Most of them turned us down. They were all terrified of Monsanto, that had been suing people all over the place, for outrageous sums of money – you can’t imagine how aggressive that coming has been in England. So, we eventually found a printer, and they charged us double. We got the issue of the magazine out, and then we found the distributors of the magazine were too terrified to distribute it, and that the shops wouldn’t stock it. So we had to take on a lot more telephone operators, and we never sold so many copies, of course.

Juan Gonzalez (co-presenter): So, in your open letter to Robert Shapiro, the Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto, that starts the issue, you mention that Monsanto, itself, has in its campaigning, urged for public discussion on the whole issue, of biotechnology, but what you are saying is what they say in their advertisements versus what they do in their practices, is quite different.

Edward Goldsmith: Exactly that. You see, they say, “we want discussion”. They had a public relations campaign, they spent a fortune on advertising, they had whole page advertisements, in just about every paper in England, and in France, the two countries that I frequent. but this thing has backfired on them. They’ve said “We want opposition”, “We want people to debate”, “We want to discuss it”. But the only discussion they had, they clamped down on it. They stopped all sorts of programmes coming out. They stopped one in America here, if you remember. No, no, no. They’ve done exactly the opposite to what they say.

Amy Goodman: I was surprised to see in your issue on Monsanto, that you had an article by HRH the Prince of Wales.

Edward Goldsmith: Yes, that had already been printed, in the Daily Telegraph, and he gave us permission to reproduce it. The Prince of Wales has taken a very, very strong position against genetic engineering.

Amy Goodman: This is Prince Charles?

Edward Goldsmith: Yes, Prince Charles. A very strong position. He is very much against industrial agriculture, in general. He is a patron of The Soil Association. He has a got a big farm – and all his production is organic, and he is a very, very great defender of organic food. He is a very englightened man – Prince Charles. People completely underrate him, you know. He is an astonishing man, with an incredible understanding of the world’s problems.

Juan Gonzalez: One of the points you made last night, was that as the word of this attempt at censorship of your special issue, got out, it was then reproduced, translated and circulated throughout various countries in Europe. I don’t think many people here in the United States really have a grasp of the difference in the way Europe, at this point, is approaching the issue of genetic biotechnology and genetic engineering, and how the United States is. Could you talk a little bit about what’s happening in Europe.

Edward Goldsmith: Well, the whole biotech industry, had no idea of it either. They thought they could move into Europe, just the way they moved into the United States, and they were very, very, very, very surprised, with the opposition they encountered. And of course, our issue, had a reasonable impact, and 20 environmental groups in Spain, got together. They held press conferences every day in 20 different cities in Spain, and they launched a translated issue of the Monsanto edition of our magazine, in Spanish. And it sold out – they printed 28,000 copies and it sold out – they’ve had to reprint. I was in Barcelona that day – it was quite astonishing. I mean, I was more surprised than anybody.

And then, in Italy, it came out. 70,000 copies were printed in Italian. Then it came out in Portuguese. It has been printed and reprinted in Brazil, sponsored by an ex-Minister of the Environment in Brazil, José Lutzenberger, who has taken a very, very strong position on this. And I think, you know, the governor of the Southern Province, of Rio Grando de Do Sul, is quite keen to eliminate all genetic engineering, from his area, which is a great soya bean producing area, and they will be in a very, very strong position, because Monsanto tells us that within a very short time, 100 percent of American soil will be genetically engineered. And they are going to have great difficulties in selling that in Europe, in fact it will be unsaleable. And, then, if Brazil follows these principles, they will have the field open to themselves. Brazilian soya will just flood the market. The market will be theirs.

Amy Goodman: We are talking to Ed Goldsmith, who is the publisher of The Ecologist magazine – as he quickly says: not to be confused with The Economist, also out of Britain. And his issue, called “The Monsanto Files: Can We Survive Genetic Engineering?”, was shredded by his printer, then his distributor refused to distribute it – all terrified of the legal might of Monsanto, which has a history of suing people, corporations, groups – that talk about it.

You have a piece in your magazine, “Monsanto: A Chequered History”, that goes through how Monsanto, came to be the company it is. How they got to be the world’s second largest manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, one of the largest producers of seeds, and soon, this time, you are saying, with the impending merger with American Home Products – the largest seller of prescription drugs in the United States. What IS, its history?

Edward Goldsmith: Well, first of all, that merger did not take place. They are now trying to merge with DuPont. The history – well basically, they have produced a whole series of very undesirable products. They were involved in producing PCBs – it is practically their product, and these PCBs are carcinogenic products – banned in the United States in 1976, but it is still polluting the environment. Sea mammals are about 100 times more vulnerable to these things than we are, and there is enough stuff around, enough PCBs around, now, in landfills, all over the world, and everywhere else, to kill off just about all the world’s sea mammals, if they (the PCBs) ended up in the oceans.

They are also the main producer – there are 3 producers in all – of Agent Orange. You know, the great defoliant, used in the Vietnam War, which has done, tremendous damage to the health of an awful lot of American veterans, and which is held responsible for something like half a million deformed children in Vietnam. Now you see, this is pretty horrifying stuff. And since then, they have produced a whole lot of other genetically modified products, which we criticise. We’ve got to look at all of them.

One of them, of course, is Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), which is banned in Europe, for the moment, and in Canada, but which is used in this country (United States). A lot of your milk contains this stuff, and we know what its problems are. First of all, we know that it causes, serious inflammation of the udders of the cows – ‘mastitis’, it is called, which leads to very much more pus in the milk, and people don’t like drinking milk with pus in it, on the whole. In Europe, they don’t, but in any case, so the answer to that is to put antibiotics in it, and of course, antibiotics is something you should not introduce into our foods, otherwise we will not be able to use antibiotics when we get sick.

Amy Goodman: Why were Europe and Canada so much more successful in defeating BGH than here? Companies like Ben & Jerry’s, just wanted to say that they weren’t using cows that were injected with BGH – they wanted to say that on their ice-cream containers, and they were sued by Monsanto, because they said that even to say that, would be to suggest it was dangerous.

Edward Goldsmith: Well, Monsanto, I am afraid to say, has a revolving door with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), you know, which is now referred to as Monsanto’s Washington Office, and it is absolutely staffed with ex-executives of Monsanto, as is Monsanto staffed with ex-members of your Administration. So there is a complete revolving door there. I’m afraid, we are getting the same thing in England. You know, your Administration is not much worse than ours, and Mr. Blair, the Prime Minister, is exactly the same.

But anyhow, people reacted, I think, that is, I am guessing, because I don’t really know the answer to that. My guess is, we’ve already had a lot of problems with industrial foods. We’ve had a whole problem with salmonella. All our eggs were full of salmonella. Food poisoning has increased massively. We’ve had a problem with listeria. We’ve had a problem with a mutant version of E. coli, you know, which is now found in meat, which is poisoning an awful lot of people. We’ve had Mad Cow Disease. You see – there is no end to them. And people are beginning to realise that industrial food is not too good for you. You know, the more high-tech it is – the more we interfere with it all, the less it is palatable, the more likely it is to do you damage. So people are now desperate to find organic food. desperate. And unfortunately, we have very few producers. We only have – only 0.3 percent of our land is farmed organically, whereas it’s 10 percent in Austria, where they are very much more enlightened on this subject.

Amy Goodman: Well, Ed Goldsmith, I’m glad that given all the things that you Brits have been afflicted with, that you made it over here to talk with us and to come to the Project Censored Awards. But we would like to come back and finish our conversation with you after Stations identify themselves, and then we will be joined by Father Michael Lapsley, who is a South African chaplain, who survived a letter bomb attack under apartheid, and is here to talk about the future of South Africa. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

Intermezzo (cut)

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Global warming

Amy Goodman: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! – the exception to the rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez, and our guest is, Ed Goldsmith. He is the publisher of The Ecologist, a magazine which he founded, close to 30 years ago. Again, one of his issues called “The Monsanto Files: Can We Survive Genetic Engineering?” was shredded by his printer, who was too terrified to bring it out, and then the distributor refused to distribute it, afraid of the Monsanto corporation.

Also, another issue, of The Ecologist is called “Climate Crisis”, and it is one of the reasons that Ed Goldsmith is here – to talk about the issue of global warming. Ed, yesterday we brought in our listeners – the activists and community residents in Richmond, California, who had gone to the Chevron shareholders meeting this past Wednesday in San Ramone, California, and among the issues they addressed was global warming. They asked Chevron to withdraw from the Global Warming Coalition (GCC) – the industry coalition that has poured millions into lobbing politicians not to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, President Clinton has not presented the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate to vote on. Can you talk about global warming and where we are today?

Edward Goldsmith: Well, global warming, is by far and away, the most serious problem that has ever confronted humanity. ever. By far away. It is going to affect every aspect of our lives – our health, our ability to feed ourselves, even our ability to survive, because many parts of this planet, are just going to be made uninhabitable, especially if we continue in this direction, and do nothing about it. And that’s the great thing. We have done, nothing whatsoever, I repeat, whatsoever, about it. We just think that it is an enormous monster, too awful to face, and if we just ignore its existence, it might go away by itself. That has been our attitude to it.

Amy Goodman: What can we do? What could we do?

Edward Goldsmith: Well, we’ve go to phase out fossil fuels. What we have to do is very drastic. That is the big problem. The whole of our industrial civilization, if you can call it that, is based on the use of fossil fuels. And I am afraid to say, fossil fuels have got to be phased out. We were told by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a very conservative body – it is not made up of eco-nuts like me – it’s a very, very conservative body, with 2000 climatologists attached to it. And they told us in 1990, in their first report, that we had to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases – caused by the combustion of fossil fuels in particular – by 60 percent to 80 percent, then, in 1990. And we’ve done nothing.

The Kyoto Agreement which you talked about, wants us to reduce them by 5 percent, by the year 2012. It is as if we did nothing at all. It is almost irrelevant. It is just of symbolic value. It shows we weren’t even willing to look at the problem – that is what it shows, and even that cannot be ratified. If the thing were ratified, and we adhered to its rules, greenhouse gas emissions would still increase, by something like 20 percent, by the year 2010, and by 60 percent by the year 2020. It is almost irrelevant. And yet, not only will we not abide by it, we won’t even look at it. Your Congress is not even willing to ratify it.

Juan Gonzalez: In terms of the effects, when will they be felt by large numbers of people? Is there any sense of that, especially of course, in the United States, where unless people begin to feel the results themselves, of the failures of policy in the past, they are not going to demand change?

Edward Goldsmith: Well, you see, people are not to going to demand change unless they begin to feel the results themselves. There we are, we’re stuck. We’ve gone far too far. We’ve know about this since the beginning of the century. A Swedish scientist called Svante Arrhenius came along, who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry, and pointed out that our industrial activities were going to lead a disastrous result. And we’ve done nothing.

Now, it should be visible to just about everyone today, that the climate has gone mad. If they don’t realise that, they must be blind. I mean, we have never had a hurricane like Hurricane Mitch, which wipes out 70 to 80 percent of the standing crop of a country, kills 20,000 people, you know – makes 2 million people homeless, you know and wipes out all of the topsoil in two small countries in Central America. This has never happened before. You know, you see for yourself – you get rainfall – 2 weeks solid rain in a desert in Chile, I was told about two days ago – which had never, ever, ever, seen rain before. I mean, the whole climate has gone crazy. everybody realises that.

But you know, nothing is done about it. Now the trouble is that we have put it off for so long now, that the programme has to be compressed into a period which is far too short for comfort. We’ve got to be able to face these things within the next 30 to 50 years. We’ve got to suddenly find other ways of producing energy, and we’ve got to reduce energy consumption, and we’ve also got to save the sinks – that is to say, the sinks that absorb carbon dioxide, and I mean by that our forests.

Our forests – trees – absorb carbon dioxide. Huge forests absorb them. And cutting down forests is already responsible for about a fifth or a sixth of all the carbon dioxide that we have produced. Now, we are doing the opposite. We’ve never cut these forests down faster! The destruction of Amazonia has never taken place faster than it is now. And now your Administration, wants to pass a Bill called the Free Logging Agreement which is going to remove all constraints – just about all constraints, on the activities of the logging companies. If that happens the rate at which global warming will increase will be doubled according to the best possible information we have here.

Now you also have to save your oceans, and to save the oceans, you have got to save the phytoplankton, because the oceans absorb carbon dioxide, and they only absorb it because of the action of the phytoplankton. And the phytoplankton are being killed by ultra-violet radiation, because we continue to destroy that ozone layer. We’ve now phased out the use of CFCs, but there are still a lot of ozone depleting substances being emitted there, all the time. And we are doing nothing about that either.

Amy Goodman: Well, you have been the publisher of The Ecologist, for close to thirty years now. Do you hold out any hope?

Edward Goldsmith: Well, I hold out a hope, for a number of reasons. Number one, people are beginning to react. People are beginning to understand, you know, that the big corporations have taken over, and that governments no longer serve the interests of the people who elected them, they serve the interests of the huge corporations. They work for them – and it is like that everywhere. And there is a bit of conflict between the immediate economic interests of these huge corporations and the survival of humanity. You know, the two are just not compatible. And they are beginning to realise that.

And now there has been a big reaction. There have been Alliances that have been set up here in Washington DC, in New York, by Lori Wollach of Public Citizen, part of the Ralph Nader organization. We have alliances with AFLCIO, church groups, environment groups, that have already killed the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, which is an absolutely outrageous proposal, removing practically all of the constraints on the activities of these huge transnational corporations. And they are trying to bring that in again, in a slightly different guise in the November ministerial meeting in Seattle of the World Trade Organization.

They’ve stopped the fast-track for President Clinton, which would have enabled him to negotiate a whole lot more ‘free trade’ deals in South America. So you have got an Alliance which is beginning to work, with people working together – people who would not normally have worked together, and this is very hopeful. It is very hopeful too, that people have reacted against genetically modified food, not just in Europe, but everywhere. This issue of The Ecologist, is coming out in Arabic – it is going to be published in Egypt. It’s coming out in other countries. People are reacting. At last, that is encouraging.

And I think that another thing that is encouraging, for me – this is going to shake you all – and maybe shock you. I think one of the things most likely to save us – and I am talking about the survival of humanity – is the breakdown of the world economy. It nearly went down last year. There was practically a meltdown. We saved that, in extremis, but it is still as shaky has hell, even though the Stock Exchange never stops going up. If that collapses, people will have time to think again.

It is going to cause a lot of other problems – terrible poverty and misery. But people will be able to rethink the basic assumptions that underlie our industrial society that are all fundamentally flawed. They started rethinking them when the Stock Exchange went down last summer, rethinking the global economy – and should we really have a global economy? They were rethinking ‘free trade’ – assumptions that no one contested a few months earlier. But as soon as the Stock Exchange went up, they forgot about it.

But when it collapses again, that is the great hope, and that may shock people, but I think that the problems that we have created, especially global warming, are so unbelievably serious, that even a crash of the global economy is better than to continue in the direction in which we are heading.

Amy Goodman: Well, Ed Goldsmith, I want to thank you for being with us. Some ominous words there, but I also think, some words of hope . . . Ed Goldsmith, thanks for being with us.

Edward Goldsmith: You’re welcome. Thank you.

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