December 13, 2002   #208
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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"It is organized violence on the top which creates individual violence at the bottom."
--- Emma Goldman

One should not be surprised that our President-Select and his war council are adopting a strategy that will "respond with overwhelming force," including "all options," to the use of biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons on the nation, its troops or its allies if we are threatened by designated enemies of our own choosing.

In addition, the Washington Post has reported "a classified version of the strategy goes even further: It breaks with 50 years of U.S. counter proliferation efforts by authorizing preemptive strikes on states and terrorist groups that are close to acquiring weapons of mass destruction or the long-range missiles capable of delivering them."

Clearly, to annihilate our "enemies" rather than to curtail, end and/or destroy their ability to cause violence has become over the last century the hallmark of our technological and industrialized obsessed society. Examples of such self pride-driven behavior abound.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example, was not only simply the "logical progression" of the Casablanca declaration of "unconditional surrender" issued by the Allies in the early stages of World War II, but it was also to demonstrate our ability to develop and use a weapon of mass destruction.

Likewise, the folly of Vietnam was, in the immortal analysis by the great journalist and political pariah I.F. Stone, the inability of the "mighty" U.S. to accept the fact that a lot of men, women and children who believed in their own cause, running around in black pajamas in remote jungles and using what we considered primitive weapons and strategies, could defeat the most formidable military power on earth.

It is not that much of a stretch to see how this deification of technological solutions has also manifested itself in agriculture --- substituting capital for efficiency and technology for labor. Because of it we have witnessed over the last century the near total destruction of family farm agriculture.

From selling farmers the idea that they needed ever-newer chemical poisons to "annihilate" pests, rather than to simply control their voraciousness, to urging them to invest in ever new and expensive cost-inefficient machinery, from irradiating food in place of the carefully monitoring and inspection of its production for diseases and bacteria to the producting of raw materials by replacing agriculture's "excess human resources" in the field to the laboratories of genetic engineers we have seen the growing, harvesting and production of our food being rapidly transmogrified from an agri-culture into an agri-business --- almost solely to the benefit of the corporate state.

Ironically, it was from what at the time were considered "weapons of mass destruction" that many of these so-called 20th century agricultural technological innovations had their genesis.

At the same time the "merchants of greed," these man handlers of democracy, have been seeking to fundamentally change the nature of the American character they have also sought to firmly establish the U.S. as an imperialist power in the world, namely by arbitrarily assuming they know what is right for the rest of the world, where and when "nation building" is to take place, and how to transform the rest of the rest of the world into simply a raw materials provider for a fast-fading capitalist economy that increasingly begins to resemble a house of cards.

Although he was addressing the U.S. involvement in World War I, A. C. Townley, the founder of the Northern Plains populist Non Partisan League in the early 20th century had it right when he charged that "it is absolute insanity for us to lead ourselves or anybody else to believe that this nation can succeed in war when hundreds of thousands of parasites, the gamblers in the necessities of life, use the war only for the purpose of exacting exorbitant profits. We are working, not to beat the enemy, but to make more multi-millionaires."

This imperialist mentality by the U.S. is certainly not some new secret policy being hatched in the dark recesses of the West Wing. It was in Dovas, Switzerland in 1999 that Henry A. Kissinger, the former Secretary of State, declared: "The U.S. today has the reach and the power of an imperial state, yet domestic perceptions have not caught up with that reality. Such lack of understanding is not healthy, but leads to isolationism."

Obviously from observing the actions of recent administrations, the extent to which our country is preparing to go to protect its power as an "imperial state" includes preemptive action against threats to U.S. security.

Against this insane background it has been Jimmy Carter, for all his faults as the 39th President of the United States, that has emerged as not only our nation's most respected statesman in the eyes of the world , but also as a much needed voice of national conscience. In his acceptance speech on Tuesday, upon receiving the richly deserved Nobel Peace Prize, Carter rightfully noted:

"For powerful countries to adopt a principle of preventive war may well set an example that can have catastrophic consequences," Citing the United States' status as the world's sole superpower, he said Americans traditionally have "not assumed that super strength guarantees super wisdom." He added that, "imperfect as it may be," the United Nations
is "the best avenue for the maintenance of peace."

"In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions, . . . Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God's mercy and grace, their lives lose all value."

And in words that ring as true for forms of organized perpetrated economic violence as they do for weapons of war Carter, a former peanut farmer, said this false justification applied not only to terrorists, but also to armed forces that use high-tech weapons. "From a great distance, we launch bombs or missiles with almost total impunity, and never want to know the number or identity of the victims."


CHRISTOPHER DREW, NEW YORK TIMES: A federal meat inspector said a Pennsylvania poultry plant, one of two operations under investigation as a likely source of a listeria outbreak that has killed eight people since July, had persistent sanitation problems that could have fostered the deadly bacteria.

But the inspector, Vincent Erthal, said inspection officials had failed to crack down on some of the problems in part because of what he and other critics see as confusion and indecision in a new federal system for regulating the nation's food companies.

Mr. Erthal said in interviews that the chief government inspector at the Wampler Foods plant in Franconia, Pennsylvania, disagreed about the extent of the dangers and opposed his efforts to force a cleanup in fall 2001, about eight months before the outbreak, which also sickened 54 people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and five other states.

Mr. Erthal also said that as health authorities issued the first alerts about the outbreak in late August, he and a supervisor recommended that top regional inspection officials consider forcing the Wampler plant to close for repairs. But, he said, little was done until six weeks later.

Several Agriculture Department officials said sanitation problems, including mold and algae on the walls and condensation dripping from ductwork over the processing tables, were chronic enough to justify closing the plant. The department ordered the plant closed temporarily on October 13 after the strain of Listeria monocytogenes that caused the deaths was found in the plant's drains. Wampler, a part of Pilgrim's Pride, the nation's second-largest poultry company, also recalled 27 million pounds of meat, one of the largest amounts in American history, and later reopened on November 13.

The Agriculture Department's inspector general and Democrats in Congress are investigating why nothing more was done before listeria was found in the drains. Executives at Pilgrim's Pride insisted that the plant was safe and that they had fixed any problems quickly.

Government and Wampler officials said none of the meat returned under the recall had tested positive for the same rare strain of listeria that caused the outbreak. They also said there was no proof that anyone had been sickened by Wampler's turkey deli meats and other ready-to-eat products. Identical bacteria have been found in turkey processed by an unrelated company, J. L. Foods Co. Inc., in Camden, New Jersey, and health officials say it remains unclear how most of the victims became ill.

Still, food-safety experts say Mr. Erthal's complaints raise new questions  about the Agriculture Department's inspection and bacteria-testing program, which has come under scrutiny as a result of huge recalls of contaminated beef and poultry at some of the nation's largest processing companies since mid-July.

To safety advocates, government auditors and some meat inspectors, the biggest failures have come in how the department's Food Safety and  Inspection Service has implemented changes that grew out of a 1993 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at the Jack-in-the-Box hamburger chain.

Billed as revolutionary, the new approach was meant to be more scientific  than the "poke and sniff" methods that inspectors had used since the turn-of-the-century days of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Because the worst hazards come from microscopic toxins, the idea was to place more responsibility on the companies for proper refrigeration and handling and to require them to create plans to kill any germs.

The program was phased in over several years, and supporters credit it with helping to reduce the frequency of serious food-borne illnesses from E. coli, salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, which caused the recent outbreak. But surveys by the Agriculture Department's inspector general and the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, show that many plants have been allowed to get by with inadequate safety plans.

Mr. Erthal, 40, who has been a meat inspector for 18 years, said the new rules have "a lot of gray areas." He said inspectors are still taught to step in quickly at any sign of direct contamination. But when it comes to broader sanitation problems, he and others said, many inspectors are waiting longer to intervene out of a sense that it is now the company's role to deal with those issues unless there are repeated failures.

Rodney Leonard, a former administrator of the inspection service, said the  result is "a clear `don't ask, don't tell' mandate" that is causing inspectors to miss "red flags all over the place."

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and the ranking  minority member on the House Committee on Government Reform, said, "I think what we're seeing is a picture of a department that has abdicated its responsibility to protect the public in the area of food safety." Dr. Elsa Murano, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety, disputed the criticism, saying she expected her inspectors to be as  aggressive as ever.

Department officials --- and Wampler executives --- said that if Mr. Erthal, who was the night-shift inspector at Wampler from May 2000 until last September when he received a requested transfer to a daytime assignment at another plant, was so worried about the conditions, he should have taken harsher actions against the plant himself or pushed harder to blow the whistle before the outbreak occurred.

Dr. Murano said the recall at Wampler was a prime motivation for a new listeria testing directive that went into effect on Monday. Under the plan, if companies that make ready-to-eat products like hot dogs and deli meats do not voluntarily provide the government with test results for even the most general, and least harmful, types of listeria in their plants, then the department will expand its own testing.

The agency also is working on a new rule to require companies to test their processing areas for listeria, Dr. Murano said, so "you can find it before it gets into the product." She said that if the agency had known before the outbreak that Wampler's own tests had detected the more general types of listeria in the plant, "we would have acted."

Ron Morris, the senior vice president for turkey operations at Pilgrim's Pride, said the company had shared its listeria testing results, both positive and negative, with the government by placing them in a file drawer with other records available to the inspectors. But department officials said the inspector in charge, Debra Martin, who declined to comment, has denied knowing anything about the company's test results, and Mr. Erthal said he never saw the logs in the drawer.

Still, Mr. Erthal said that over time company employees told him informally that the tests were finding general types of listeria in the plant. Experts say the most common listeria can be harmless, but their presence also can signal that conditions are ripe for Listeria monocytogenes, the deadly type.

Mr. Erthal said that when Ms. Martin walked around with him in his first  days at the plant, he pointed to the algae on the walls, flaking paint and  condensation on air-conditioning ducts. But, he said, Ms. Martin told him that under the new regulatory system, such hazards were not a high priority unless they threatened to directly contaminate meat.

Then, in the fall of 2001, Mr. Erthal said, Ms. Martin disagreed with his suggestion that the violations warranted broader enforcement action. She told him the plant was making improvements, Mr. Erthal said, and he ultimately backed off. Mr. Erthal agreed that the plant had made progress, replacing old walls in one area and increasing the use of floor sanitizers. But he also was concerned about how often floor drains got clogged and backed up into puddles in the processing rooms.

Then, on August 28, he said, he went through a number of the deficiency notices with his circuit supervisor, Muhammad A. Choudry. Officials said  Mr. Choudry sent an e-mail message to managers in the Philadelphia district office suggesting that the Wampler plant was a good candidate for an enforcement notice, which gives a company three days to create a plan to fix safety problems or face being temporarily shut down.

Jan T. Behney, the district manager in Philadelphia, and John Sworen, then the district's top enforcement officer, said that their aides reviewed the material within several working days and agreed that the violations were documented well enough to support a notice. But Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the inspection service in Washington, said health officials initially focused on a different company's plant as the most likely source of the outbreak, and the district inspection office did not turn its attention to Wampler until September 27.

Mr. Cohen said the department took two samples from the Wampler plant's drains on October 3 or 4 that matched the strain of listeria in the outbreak.  He added that 25 of the 57 samples tested positive for other strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Mr. Morris, the Pilgrim's Pride senior vice president, said the company "diligently worked" to fix the problems with mold and condensation over the past year. Mr. Morris said Wampler recently strengthened safety programs.

Mr. Erthal, who has been on leave since a car accident in late September, said that after the outbreak was connected to the plant, he sought help from the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group that  represents whistle-blowers. He said he had also been interviewed by the Agriculture Department's inspector general and by Mr. Waxman's staff.

This article was reported by Christopher Drew, Elizabeth Becker and Bud Hazelkorn and written by Mr. Drew.


CHRISTOPHER DREW, NEW YORK TIMES: The top Democrat on a House committee requested [Wednesday] that the Agriculture Department disclose inspection reports and let his staff interview inspectors at a Pennsylvania poultry plant that is under investigation in a listeria outbreak that killed eight people last summer.

The lawmaker, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, ranking  minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, said he would examine whether the department ignored signs that listeria was in the plant in Franconia, Pennsylvania, and gave the owner, Wampler Foods, too much notice before testing its products for listeria.

Mr. Waxman sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman asking that she give one of the inspectors, Vincent Erthal, protection as a federal whistle-blower. The New York Times quoted Mr. Erthal on Wednesday as saying that department officials had not been tough enough in dealing  with persistent sanitation problems at the plant.

The letter provided additional details of assertions by Mr. Erthal, who has been interviewed by Mr. Waxman's staff, as well as the Agriculture Department inspector general.

Mr. Waxman wrote that he was especially concerned about whether Wampler, part of Pilgrim's Pride, the nation's second-largest poultry company, had been given time to clean the plant before the listeria tests and minimize the chances that bacteria would be detected.

Mr. Erthal has said Wampler employees told him that another inspector sometimes notified the company about the tests well in advance. Mr. Erthal, the night inspector at the plant from May 2000 until last September, said that on several occasions the company halted its night production shift two or three hours early to clean up before tests the next morning.

Agriculture Department officials said the other inspector had denied giving the company improper warning. Department rules say it can give companies enough notice to make plans to avoid shipping the meat before determining the test results. Department officials said that usually meant notifying the company early on the morning of the tests or the evening before. Wampler said the government typically notified it on the morning of the tests. Mr. Waxman said if any of the notifications were earlier than usual, the tests would have been "basically rigged."

Mr. Waxman also asked Ms. Veneman to look into whether officials knew that Wampler's testing showed listeria in the plant and, if so, why the  department did not act before the company recalled 27 million pounds of poultry products in October.


SHARON BEGLEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Blame the media. When reporters write about controversial subjects, we have this bad habit of portraying science the way we do politics, except with more polysyllabic jargon.

Just as we give space to both sides when we cover, say, capital punishment or affirmative action --- moral and social issues with no empirically based, objectively right answer --- so we apply the equal-time rule to questions like whether climate is changing or lead is neurotoxic.

That conveys a grossly wrong impression. Although it can sometimes seem otherwise, as when the public gets whiplash from ever-changing dietary advice, in science there actually are right answers (eventually), and until then a preponderance of evidence and agreement with both an existing body of knowledge and a theoretical edifice.

All this brings us to how the Department of Health and Human Services is filling its 258 scientific-advisory panels.

When we last checked in on Secretary Tommy Thompson, his office had made some remarkable choices. For a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel on safety standards for lead in children's blood, he tapped a doctor with no relevant research experience (the doctor treats lead-poisoned kids) and who in June stated in a legal deposition for industry that a lead level of 70 micrograms per deciliter is harmless (the That and other industry-linked appointments received wide media coverage when House Democrats wrote to Mr. Thompson in October that "scientific decision-making is being subverted by ideology."

But the lead panel was only the opening gambit. HHS is now going beyond packing panels that weigh existing data to stack committees that determine what research actually will be conducted in the future.

Before this, both Republican and Democratic administrations had respected the decades-old tradition by which scientific panels were assembled. To insure that only the best researchers served, knowledgeable scientists at HHS agencies such as the National Institutes of Health or CDC forwarded to the secretary the names of the leading lights. (Yes, Virginia, science is an elitist institution, not a democracy.)

HHS seems to have other ideas. "You need a diversity of opinions to get good advice and counsel," says William Pierce, HHS spokesman.

Unfortunately, that has brought the appointment of a scientist who hasn't been in the forefront of lead research for years and the loss of researchers who have done seminal work on lead.

Ideology is also trumping science at CDC's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. One of its study sections weighs the scientific merits of competing grant proposals on workplace injuries and decides which get funded. Since its inception, members have been appointed by NIH scientists based on scientific expertise. Not anymore. Having rejected those nominees, scientists say, HHS staffers asked them which presidential candidate they voted for in 2000 and what they think of stem-cell research and abortion --- issues with no relevance to the section's work.

Give HHS credit. Apparently annoyed at what pesky scientists discovered about workplace injuries and other contentious issues, "They seem to have decided that they have to prevent the `wrong' research from getting done in the first place," one academic says.

Think how much easier life would be, at least for industry and its friends, if no one had ever studied the effects of lead on the brain. Or if a panel of the National Academy of Sciences hadn't concluded in 2001 that levels of arsenic the administration wanted to permit in drinking water would give thousands of us cancer. The threat, says epidemiologist Dana Loomis of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who chairs the NIOSH study section, is that ideology rather than scientific merit will shape the
research agenda. "A free society cannot be afraid of knowledge," he says.

It goes without saying that every administration is entitled to appoint people who share its values and political views. But those appointees belong in policy jobs, not on panels charged with assessing science. The latter examine existing research and say that this level of lead in 100,000 kids will produce this degree of cognitive impairment, or this level of
arsenic in drinking water will produce this many cancers. Policy makers decide if those consequences are acceptable or not, and if preventing them costs too much. That is a value judgment, on which reasonable people can differ. But let's not pretend the underlying science is other than it is.

For more than a century the quasigovernmental NAS has managed to balance its study panels without resorting to unqualified people tapped for their ideology. A General Motors scientist served on a committee studying the greenhouse effect; a leading proponent of the view that hormone-disrupting chemicals pose no real risk to people served on one studying those compounds. Yet, both brought something to the process: expertise and relevant research experience.

Simply having an opinion isn't a qualification. If ideology continues to triumph in the appointment of federal science panels, the inevitable result will be a terminal loss of public trust in the integrity of science.


DAVID DECHANT, CROP CHOICE: Monsanto's prosecution of Percy Schmeiser for saving seed has been well publicized, as it should be. However, Monsanto's other numerous legal actions against farmers need more publicity. The Monsanto v. Homan McFarling case is one such example.

Last week, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Mississippi soybean farmer Homan McFarland will have to pay Monsanto $780,000, unless the US Supreme Court agrees to hear his case and reverses the U.S. Court of Appeals decision, which had found that the Court for the Eastern District of Missouri had not erred in finding Homan guilty of infringing Monsanto's patent.

However, one of the three Appeals Court judges, Clevenger, dissented. He referred to Monsanto's technology agreement as a "contract of adhesion" and, therefore, argued that Monsanto's clause requiring that any disputes be settled in a Missouri court is unenforceable. He wrote, "My  colleagues have the honor of making this court the first to enforce a forum selection clause in a contract of adhesion against a defendant in  derogation of his constitutional rights." In other words, by requiring that farmers go to trial outside of their home district, the tech agreement violates their Fifth Amendment right to due process under the law.

So just what is a contract of adhesion? It is generally described as a standard form contract. That means it's the same for everyone, written by the party with the strongest bargaining power and offered under the condition of "take-it-or-leave-it," giving the signer no chance of modifying any of the terms.

To any farmer who has signed a Monsanto tech agreement, this sounds familiar. All farmers sign the same contract, and the terms are, in  fact, lopsided and very much in Monsanto's favor. There has been no bargaining on farmers' behalf for better terms. If farmers want to plant Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, they have to sign the contract whether they like it or not. And, as Clevenger notes, over 200 seed companies offer RR soybean seed, but all require that farmers sign Monsanto's technology agreement.

Upon noting that the majority of soybeans planted in the U.S. are Roundup Ready and that Mississippi farmers have weeds that are especially  difficult to control without Roundup, Clevenger says, "Taken together, these facts indicate that farmers like McFarling have little choice but to sign the Technology Agreement if they wish to remain competitive in the soybean market."

This is most refreshing to hear! At least there is one Judge who has enough sense not to fall for the simplistic argument that farmers don't have to plant patented seed if they don't want to. Clevenger hits the nail right on the head: the need to be competitive forces many farmers to plant RR soybeans, even if they don't like the tech agreement. And, it's not just in Mississippi. Several Midwestern farmers say that a lot  of landlords now expect weed free soybean fields, so if they want to rent land, they have to grow RR soybeans to keep the landlord satisfied.

To further expand on Clevenger's argument, what would happen if Monsanto succeeds in its quest at the World Intellectual Property Organization and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to patent soybean genes and genetic markers that confer high yields? One result could be, for example, that Monsanto monopolizes traits that help soybean varieties that produce ten percent more. Then, it would be able to collect tech fees on nearly 100% of the acres planted to soybeans, as no farmer could stay in business growing lower yielding soybeans, and no seed company would be able to sell soybean seed without incorporating Monsanto's patented traits.

Furthermore, the macroeconomic effect of wide scale adoption of RR soybeans makes the tech agreement and Monsanto's iron handed enforcement of it particularly onerous. That is, because soybeans have become easier to grow, more of them are grown, and because a big crop in the aggregate is always worth less than a small crop, soybeans are cheaper than they otherwise would be. In fact, any individual benefit a farmer receives growing RR soybeans is negated or even reversed by having to sell his crop cheaper.

As Iowa State University agricultural economist Neil Harl aptly notes in describing a phenomenon he calls the Great Paradox, "The aggregate effect of these crops is to increase output, but because of inelastic demand, producers receive less money." So while farmers have to adopt new technologies to remain competitive, that same technology puts financial pressure on them. While this has been occurring for years, the one thing that's different with biotechnology is that farmers are expected to give up their traditional rights, such as seed saving. So, it should be no surprise Monsanto expects them to give up their Fifth Amendment rights, too.

So how hard is it to stay clear of Monsanto and its tech agreement? With  RR soybeans now making up three fourths of soybean seed sales, it is hard not to buy RR soybean seed. For example, I told my seed salesman months in advance that I wanted six bags of short season soybean seed to plant as a trial, as I had never grown soybeans before, not being a traditional crop here in Colorado. I emphasized that I wanted  conventional, non-GMO seed. But when the salesman delivered the six bags, they were all RR. When I asked the salesman why he didn't bring conventional seed, he said, "that's all I could find in a short season variety. Take the seed, get it off my hands." I told him, "thanks but no  thanks," and he loaded the six bags back onto his pickup.

Moreover, seed companies are combining other traits in RR soybeans. Last year's Garst seed catalog, for instance, advertised 12 new cyst nematodes resistant varieties as the "dirty dozen." However, all twelve were RR, so if a farmer wanted to plant one of these new nematode resistant varieties, he would be planting a RR variety. And, as a recent  Soybean Digest article reports, "With the exception of a handful of   food-grade/conventional soybeans, Roundup Ready varieties are the list of new selections for the 2003 planting season."

In the end, if the Supreme Court allows the Appeals Court verdict to stand, Homan McFarling is likely to lose everything. He has a reported net worth of $75,000 and all he'll have to show for a lifetime of hard work is a huge debt to Monsanto. And, it will be a miracle if his health isn't affected, too. Again, making this particularly onerous is the fact  that Monsanto eagerly introduces its patented seed into countries where it knows fully
well beforehand that it cannot prohibit seed saving, like it did in Argentina, China, and wants to do in Brazil. In fact, it is  still releasing new varieties in Argentina, even though it cannot stop seed saving.

Perhaps if North American farmers had someone to negotiate the tech agreement on their behalf, they would have gotten far more amenable terms. Daniel Charles reports in his book, Lords of the Harvest, that Pioneer seed company paid a mere $500,000 to Monsanto for the right to use the RR gene forever. In fact, given the volume of seed that it sells, Pioneer could have charged no or very little tech fee, rather than following all other seed companies in charging a uniform fee.

Monsanto doesn't have to rule with an iron hand. A chart in the USDA's Economic Research Service report, "Agricultural Research and Development: Public and Private Investments Under Alternative Markets and Institutions," shows that at least 73% of the soybean and cottonseed planted in 1992 was purchased new, and this is before the Plant Variety Protection Act was tightened up in 1994. And, the share of new seed sold every year can be even greater, if seed companies would give a little friendly encouragement and keep the price reasonable.

Finally, it is important to remember that making crops easier to grow or making them produce more doesn't always benefit farmers. It doesn't take  a PhD to figure out that when something is easier to grow, fewer farmers are needed to grow it. Or alternatively, more of it gets grown, again hurting farmers because a big crop in the aggregate is usually worth less than a small one.

In no way does this mean that production-increasing technology should be rejected. The point is that when farmers don't benefit upon wide scale adoption and when consumers don't want to eat food grown with such technology, why be in a big hurry to adopt it and spread it around the world? Something first should be done about the terms under which
competitive pressures force farmers to eventually adopt it. Otherwise, there are going to be thousands more farmers who find themselves in a legal battle with an infinitely more powerful opponent.

David Dechant grows alfalfa, corn and wheat in Colorado.


ELIZABETH OLSON, NEW YORK TIMES:The new round of global trade negotiations, begun with great fanfare at Doha, Qatar, early this year, has bogged down, and trade diplomats are beginning to despair of making enough progress to justify holding an important interim conference scheduled for Cancún, Mexico, next year. The deadline of January 2005 for completing the whole round of talks is also in danger of slipping.

The point of the Cancún meeting is to avoid repeating the debacle of the World Trade Organization's Seattle conference in 1999, when diplomats inside the meeting wrangled fruitlessly over irreconcilable positions and agendas while antiglobalization demonstrators swarmed the streets outside. This time, many of the organization's 144 member nations want the hard negotiating to be done ahead of time and the conference to be a harmonious ratification of the progress that has been made.

But over a three-day stock-taking this week at the group's headquarters in  Geneva, trade envoys found precious little progress, only deep divisions and stalled talks.

Chief among the issues in deadlock is one that was not even on the official agenda for the Doha round: access to patented medicines for poor countries. The issue has eclipsed even agricultural trade, the one that trade experts expected to be the most intractable in the talks.

Most trade matters are obscure and technical, but they can have important  connections to highly charged emotional issues. The trade organization has found itself squirming uncomfortably in the spotlight when the effects of trade treaties on environmental safeguards or the treatment of workers have been spotlighted. Now, the question of whether developing countries have the right to override foreign patent protections for essential medicines has become such an issue, in part because it has been cast in moral terms.

"The public has a position on this issue: poor people need those drugs,"  said Sergio Marchi, Canada's chief trade negotiator in Geneva. "The need is to deliver affordable drugs in the most efficient way to the poorest of the poor. If we don't resolve this, the W.T.O. will be judged very harshly." At the Doha meeting, the organization's members pledged to resolve the issue by December 31. But the negotiations have floundered in recent weeks.

Trade negotiators say that at a meeting in Sydney, Australia, before the American midterm elections, a compromise seemed to be near. But "there has been some hardening of positions" since then, the European Union's trade envoy, Carlos Trojan, said  . . . in a telephone interview from Geneva.

"U.S. officials seem to have the whole American pharmaceutical industry on their back," he said. The drug companies say that allowing international trade in unlicensed copies of their drugs made in India, Brazil or other developing countries would be devastating to the world patent system, chill research on new drugs and flood the world with medicines of dubious quality. But poor countries without a drug industry of their own say that banning such trade denies them badly needed medicines that they cannot afford to buy at developed-world prices.

The most the United States has so far offered in talks on the issue is a narrow exemption for drugs that treat three diseases: AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

"Some countries want this to apply not just to epidemics, but to any health problem, and that makes the pharmaceutical industry mad," said a United States trade official involved in the negotiations who did not want his name used. That includes some secondary patents --- patents requested after a drug's use is better known --- for medicines like Viagra, which are not needed for a health crisis, he said.

Poorer countries want drugs for many more diseases added to the list.

"You can read the Doha declaration," said Brazil's trade envoy, Lu's Felipe de Seixas Correa, in Geneva. "It is very clear that it included those three diseases but, at the same time, it did not exclude other diseases. We insist that it be fulfilled in its entirety."

The fight over pharmaceuticals is symptomatic of the uneasy standoff between developing countries, which make up the bulk of the trade organization's membership, and the giant economies of the United States and the European Union. Relations have been strained for much of the organization's seven-year existence, because the developing countries say they believe that they were short-changed in the last global round of talks, which ended in 1994.

The developing countries want more time to meet commitments they made in that round, including cracking down on copyright and patent infringement. But little or no progress has been made on these implementation issues, as they are known.

The agricultural talks, too, are stuck, mainly over reluctance in Europe and the United States to reduce subsidies and lift trade barriers. The European Union has yet to submit its proposals on the question, a failure that some diplomats say makes it unlikely that the organization will be able to agree on a framework for talks on the issue by the March 2003 deadline.

Some experts think Europe is stalling to keep its political options open.  "There is concern that there will be no written plan," said Sophia Murphy, trade policy director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which is based in Minneapolis. Still, Mr. Trojan promised a plan "soon."

For its part, the United States, which irritated many trade partners last year with a huge new farm-subsidy bill and a protective tariff on steel imports, has been making a number of proposals, including cutting tariffs on farm goods in half and eliminating export subsidies.

Late last month, the Bush administration also proposed gradual elimination of tariffs on all manufactured goods, including two of the most protected categories, shoes and textiles, but the European Union dismissed it as unrealistic.

Brinkmanship is common in trade talks, with logjams building up for months that are only broken by last-minute concessions and deals. But the lesson many members drew from Seattle is the danger of leaving too many messes to be tidied up at the 11th hour. "I saw the beach the day before the talks in Doha," Mr. Trojan said. But with all the work left to do before the Cancún meeting, he said, "we'll be locked up for at least ten days, or longer."


JOHN WAGNER, RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER: In what will likely be the last public speech of his 30-year career, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms bade farewell Monday to some of his most loyal constituents: Tar Heel farmers.

"I come to you this morning to pay my respects to you and to tell you I love you," the North Carolina Republican said to about 500 members of the N.C. Farm Bureau at their annual statewide convention in Greensboro, North Carolina "Please know that I'm going to be your friend, as long as I live."

In an emotional send-off, both the bureau and its parent organization, the American Farm Bureau, presented Helms with their highest awards, and the crowd was treated to a video montage of some of Helms' past appearances before the group. In a 1993 speech, Helms asserted that farmers were more committed to the environment than "these long-haired people running around advocating additional rules and laws."

Helms, a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also blessed his successor, U.S. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Dole, who introduced him to the crowd. Dole will be "your second true friend in a row in the United States Senate," Helms said. "She's your friend. I can guarantee you that."

The changing of the guard comes at a time when the state's farmers are struggling to turn a profit and tobacco farmers in particular are looking to Washington for help with a quota buyout. In her remarks, Dole pledged to push buyout legislation, saying it was needed "to secure the future of our tobacco farmers."

Dole, who will be sworn in January 7, also promised to seek additional drought relief and to work to "permanently kill the death tax," a levy on estates that many family farmers view as onerous.

After their remarks, Helms and Dole sat on stage for nearly half an hour as members of the crowd streamed forward for autographs, photos and handshakes. Among them was Calvin Oglesby, a retired farmer from Martin County whose crops included tobacco, peanuts and soybeans.

"He was someone we could always count on," Oglesby said of Helms. "But times change, and we have to pass the gavel on." In his five Senate terms, Helms developed a special appeal to rural voters in the east, many of them registered Democrats who became known as "Jessecrats."

Larry Wooten, the farm bureau's president, said Helms had picked an ideal venue to close out his tenure. "Senator Helms began his Senate career with farmers on his mind, and he ended his career here today, basically," Wooten said. "His seniority is going to be missed because he could open doors that will take others a little longer to get open."

U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton, who is retiring after a decade-long career representing an eastern district, was among the other speakers to address the gathering Monday. U.S. Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat who is eyeing a 2004 White House bid, [was] scheduled to make an appearance Tuesday.

After her speech, Dole visited a High Point church being used as a shelter for residents still without electricity in the wake of last week's ice storm. Dole mingled with volunteers and displaced families. She told reporters that she and her mother have been staying in a hotel in Salisbury awaiting the return of their heat.


MURRAY POLNER AND JIM O'GRADY, NEW YORK TIMES: It is one of the most striking photographs of the Vietnam War era, and it happened because of Philip Berrigan.

On the ground, wire baskets stuffed with draft notices are on fire, the flames appearing to lick the knees of a pair of Catholic priests who stand  behind them. It is May 1968 and the priests are the brothers Philip and Daniel Berrigan. They wear black with Roman collars and stand in a pose of benediction.

They have taken the files from an office of the Selective Service board that is sending young men to fight in Southeast Asia. They have soaked the  papers in homemade napalm, which burns well. With seven others, they came to Catonsville, Maryland, to perform this act of civil disobedience: the first mass burning of draft files.

The group conducted its business in plain sight. The photo, taken by a news photographer who was tipped off beforehand, appeared on front pages around the world. Some saw the act as a stroke of moral boldness, an authoritative rebuke to an unjust war and the draft that made it possible. Others criticized it as the nihilistic politics of guilt and martyrdom.

Certainly, we have had reason of late to fear those who would place their religious beliefs above the prerogatives of the state. But there is an instructive difference between what Philip Berrigan did in 1968, and continued to do until shortly before his death from cancer last week, and the fanatical acts of those who would claim to be agents of God's will.

Philip Berrigan, very simply, shunned violence. This is not as easy as it sounds. Many radicals, from the abolitionist John Brown to anti-abortion assassins, have used violence as a means to achieving their version of righteous ends. As a pacifist, Berrigan never did. He survived a Depression era boyhood, served as an artilleryman and officer in World War II, then followed his brother Daniel into the priesthood.

He spoke out early against segregation in the South from pulpits in Washington, D.C., and Louisiana, protested the Vietnam War before many  could find that country on a map and raised a long and persistent alarm against nuclear weapons.

In 1980, after he had left the priesthood, he devised another new form of protest. With seven others, he entered a nuclear weapons facility and  hammered and threw blood on missile parts. He called such protests "Plowshares actions," after the biblical injunction to turn swords into plowshares. He committed six of these actions himself and inspired dozens of others around the country.

He spent 11 of the last 31 years of his life in prison. But he could take the weight, as longtime inmates say.

In the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., he believed that suffering for one's beliefs was the best way to disarm enemies. This is extremely idealistic but disciplined, too --- a discipline formed by faith even though he could be critical of the church. A student once asked him why he was still a Catholic. He replied: "Where else can I go? My roots are in the church, in Thomas `Becket, the Christian martyrs of Rome, Thomas  More."

A few years ago, he admitted that "even sympathizers thought Plowshares actions look ridiculous now, a sermon to the converted, ignored by government and the media, the public no longer listening."

All true. On the other hand, Philip Berrigan has left an unusual legacy of a radical who kept absolute faith with nonviolence. It's there in the photo. And in the life.

Murray Polner and Jim O'Grady are authors of Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan.'

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