INTERVIEW: JEREMY RIFKIN:
1.What first brought you to this issue?
President of The Foundation on Economic Trends, he is a longtime
opponent of biotechnology. Rifkin outlines why GM
food is radically different from classical breeding and discusses how
there are better ways to apply bioengineering to agricultural products.
He also counters the argument that GM food is a solution in helping to
feed a hungry world and talks about the threat of life science companies
like Monsanto employing antitrust tactics in their patenting of gene
technology. (Interview conducted August 2000.)
2. Before this, you had GMOs in labs, but this was the first time they
would be released. Why was this a bigger deal?
4. Were GMOs properly regulated?
5. What about the issues of liability? . . .
6. Why did this take off in Europe recently?
7. This was an attempt to keep US products out, like McDonald's . .
But even in Europe, you didn't have the support of the scientific
community saying this was a safety issue.
8. How far do you think it's going to go in Europe?
9. So countries will violate the World Trade Organization if they have
10. What makes you think the public debate over GM foods is going to
travel to here?
11. Obviously, voluntary labeling is one of things that will come.
12. . . . An example would be a company like Gerber, whose products would
say "This does not contain GMOs." . . .
13. Obviously, humans have been modifying nature genetically for 10,000
years with selection, breeding, mutagenesis. Why is this qualitatively
different? . . .
14. But we're taking very small bits of it.
15. I visited a farmer in the Midwest, and they just used two
applications of Roundup Ready, one at the beginning of the season and one
halfway through. It was much less than they've ever used before. . . .
16. Regarding the issue of resistance, Monsanto and the EPA requires that
farmers plant a refuge. . . .
17. The issue is not whether insects move across the refuge. The issue is
the buildup of resistance, isn't it?
18. But these are empirical questions. We don't know whether a refuge
works or not. . . .
19. There obviously have been tests, like in Arizona.
20. There are a couple of potential technical fixes. Take genetically
modified salmon, for example. You make your salmon sterile. With plants, you
make the so-called terminator gene. . . . If that was done, wouldn't this be
reassuring to you?
21. Is food safety an issue here, as you see it?
22. But everyone's aware of allergenicity as an issue, aren't they? This
is not a secret. . . .
23. Of course, you can remove allergenicity genes, can't you? . . .
24. But you just said there was no way, in practice, that we could
25. With food, we don't have an absolute standard of safety, obviously.
The food supply that we have is not safe. So the question is about balancing
risks and benefits. . . . One example is the papaya story, where a viral
pathogen on the Hawaiian Islands was destroying all of the crops. The only
solution anybody can think of is a transgenic crop. Is that a good
risk-benefit calculation? . . . That's a risk-benefit where the benefits are
immediate. . . .
26. But your aim, then, isn't to stop it? . . .
27. I haven't spoken to the chemical companies yet. I have spoken to
scientists at Cornell, UC-Davis, mainstream academic agricultural
scientists. . . . Some of the mainstream agricultural scientists are not
that concerned about the production of GMOs.
28. You think they're compromised, in other words?
29. There's a lot of GM stuff out there--not just soybeans and corn-- but
if you include genetically engineered enzymes, there's also cheese, beer,
bread, sodas. This revolution has happened. What makes you think it's
30. But there is a huge constituency of agricultural scientists who see
this as enormous potential for the developing world, for the hungry, for
feeding the burgeoning population of the world. They fear that the reckless
action of activist groups may kill this.
31. That argument's a little bogus, isn't it?
32. Do you want to say anything last on patent issues? . . .
33. Does that raise antitrust issues?
34. So it's a bit like Microsoft.
35. The difference is that the government was bringing the case against