GREENPEACE INTERNATIONALS 1996-97 CAMPAIGN AGAINST
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1999
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment for the degree of
Master of Social Science
This thesis for Masters of Social Science
has been approved
Schneider, Stefanie (Masters of Social Science)
Greenpeace Internationals 1996-97 Campaign Against Genetically Modified Food in
the European Union
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This case study examines the 1996-97 Greenpeace International campaign
against genetically modified food in the European Union. The study applies the
political process theory as a framework for analysis, focusing specifically on the
political opportunity structure of the EU and the framing processes and protest
strategies of Greenpeace International. The purpose of the study is to assess the
contribution made by the Greenpeace campaign to the overall movement against
genetically modified food in the EU. The decisions made by the EUs governing
institutions are evaluated as part of the political opportunity structure, targeting
American suppliers and European manufactures is examined as part of Greenpeace
Internationals protest strategy, and food safety is analyzed as part of Greenpeace
Internationals framing process.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
Patents and Profits..................................3
Monsantos Rise to the Top...........................5
Review of the Literature....................................9
Theoretical Framework Social Movement Theory...............12
The Political Process Theory........................13
Framing Processes and Protest Strategies............15
Arrangement of Thesis......................................19
Genetically Modified Food...............................20
The Gene Insertion Package........................21
The Significance of Soybeans and Com..............23
The European Union......................................26
The Precautionary Principle.............................30
3. CASE STUDY.......................................................34
Greenpeace Internationals 1996-97 Campaign Against Genetically
Modified Food in the European Union...........................34
The Political Opportunity Structure...........................34
Different Regulatory Approaches........................36
Member State Opposition................................40
The World Food Day Protests............................42
The Cargo Ship Protests................................43
The January 1997 Protests..............................47
The Framing Process...........................................48
Emphasize the Unknown Risks............................49
Blame the Americans....................................51
Talk About Antibiotic Resistance.......................52
Feedback from the Targets.....................................53
Taking Advantage of the Political Opportunity Structure.57
Shaping the Image.......................................60
The De Facto Ban........................................62
Suggestions for Further Research........................67
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 The Genetically Modified Food Debate in the European Union.69
Biotechnology is a broad field of science which includes applications such as
cloning animals and human tissues, using genetic testing to detect hereditary
diseases, and introducing human genes into bacteria to produce medicines and
vaccines. Gene-splicing, one type of agricultural biotechnology, involves introducing
foreign genes into crop plants to make them resistant to herbicides and pesticides.
When those transgenic crop plants are used as ingredients in processed food, the
products are referred to as genetically modified food (Europeans and Biotechnology
Most of us in the United States are consuming genetically modified food and
have been for years (Bruno 1997). Genetically engineered bacteria used to make
cheese and a genetically engineered growth hormone which causes cows to produce
more milk, were both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the
1980s. The first commodity food crops to be genetically engineered were soybeans
and com. They received regulatory approval in the U.S. in 1995 (Schurman 2004).
Also in 1995, the British corporation Zeneca Plant Science marketed a tomato
puree in the European Union (EU) made from genetically engineered tomatoes. The
tomatoes were known as Flavr Savr tomatoes and were genetically engineered by a
California corporation, Calgene. Researchers at Calgene found a way to slow down
the ripening process so the tomato had a longer shelf life. Not all supermarkets in the
EU stocked the puree made from Flavr Savr tomatoes, but the few that did promoted
it as energy-saving and farmer-friendly. Zeneca voluntarily labeled the puree and
sold it at a slightly cheaper price than its counterpart, but sales were average and
apparently so was the taste (Blythman 1996; Charles 2001).
The first genetically engineered, or transgenic soybean and com crops were
grown commercially in the United States in 1996. The European Union approved for
both transgenic crops for import during 1996, but not without controversy. Along
with consumer organizations and some member states in the Council, the
environmental organization Greenpeace International launched a campaign against
importing the transgenic crops into Europe, assigning a dynamic and experienced
coordinator to lead fifteen full-time activists in the effort (Charles 2001; Schurman
2004). By the end of 1996, Greenpeace activists had staged protests in several
European cities and ports, attracting an enormous amount of attention to the issue of
genetically modified food in the European Union.
This thesis uses political process theory to address the following research
In what ways did the 1996-97 Greenpeace International campaign against
genetically modified food attempt to take advantage of the political opportunity
structure in the European Union? What framing processes and protest strategies did
Greenpeace use, and what contribution did the Greenpeace campaign make to. the
overall movement against genetically modified food?
Patents and Profits
The technique of recombinant DNA, which is literally combining genes
spliced from one species to another, was first developed in the early 1970s
(Schurman 2004; Vogel and Lynch 2001). Some scientists were concerned about the
possible implications of the technology and called for a temporary moratorium on all
related research, an action initially supported by the National Institutes of Health
(NIH). At the time, the NIH was responsible for imposing regulations on
recombinant DNA research laboratories. Research facilities were also primarily
funded by the government, but once the commercial potentials of recombinant DNA
technology became evident, private funding for the research increased dramatically,
and the strict regulations first governing it were replaced by regulations favoring
corporate pursuit of the technology (Vogel and Lynch 2001).
In 1980 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of awarding a patent
for a microorganism. The decision, Diamond v Chakrabarty, opened die door for
corporations to own the building blocks of the food supply. The seed business,
previously a low profit venture, was completely changed. Multinational corporations
such as Monsanto spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research while filing
patent applications for recombinant DNA discoveries, and sometimes even the
corresponding enabling technologies (Charles 2001).
As the seed business became a more profitable venture due to advancements
in genetic engineering, corporations previously focused on chemicals and
pharmaceuticals began investing in agricultural biotechnology. Dow, DuPont, and
Monsanto, three of the top chemical corporations in the United States, all formed
agricultural biotechnology divisions. In the Eufopean Union, more chemical and
pharmaceutical corporations ventured into agricultural biotechnology, but
corporations needed deep pockets to keep up so a wave of acquisitions and mergers
swept through the industry, consolidating much of the Seed business into only a
handful of giant corporations (Charles 2001; Schurman 2004).
Monsantos Rise to the Top
No multinational corporation pursued the profits of agricultural
biotechnology with more zest than Monsanto (Charles 2001). With such notable
chemical products as saccharin (Nutrasweet), polychlorinated biphenals (PCBs), and
Agent Orange in their product portfolio (Bowring 2003), executives at Monsanto
began transforming the company into an agricultural biotechnology giant in the
1980s by funding research in genetic engineering, obtaining patents for their
discoveries, and investing in seed companies (Charles 2001).
Daniel Charles wrote an in depth analysis of Monsantos transition into the
field of agricultural biotechnology called Lords of the Harvest. According to Charles
(2001) Monsantos strategy was to become the Microsoft of agriculture by patenting
not only the genes possessing certain desirable traits, such as a resistance to
Monsantos Roundup herbicide, but the enabling technologies as well. Monsanto
could charge farmers a technology fee and squeeze out some of the competition by
denying them use of the technology. James Wilbur, securities analyst at Smith
Barney in New York, summed it up this way: Monsantos strategy is much like
Microsoft or Netscape. Almost anyone will have to use theft technology to do
business in this field (Morse 1997).
The key to Monsantos venture into agricultural biotechnology was the
chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in their top-selling herbicide Roundup.
When considering a desirable trait, Monsanto found resistance to glyphosate
appealing because Roundup was already bringing in billions of dollars in revenue
every year. If they could engineer commodity crops to be resistant to glysophate, they
could increase their profits by selling the seeds, the technology, and more Roundup.
When Monsanto accomplished their goal of Roundup Ready soybeans, they quickly
moved on to Roundup Ready cotton and Roundup Ready com (Mpnbiot 1997;
Monsanto was able to achieve a variety of glyphosate-resistant crops because
Monsanto had invested in a wide range of seed companies. DeKalb Genetics, was the
second largest seed com company in North America when Monsanto paid $160
million for a significant minority stake (Company News; Monsanto 1996). Monsanto
also purchased Calgene, the developer of the Flavr Savr tomato, but also a leader in
oilseed technology (Company News; Monsanto to buy 1096; Morse 1997). Asgrow
Agronomics, a major soybean seed supplier in the United States, was also acquired
(Company News; Monsanto in deal 1996).
After making several of these seed company acquisitions, Monsanto
executives needed to raise more cash. Just as Roundup Ready soybeans were on their
way to Europe in October of 1996, Chief Executive Robert Shapiro was announcing
Monsantos chemical division was for sale (Myerson 1996). Worth about three
billion dollars, the chemical division had defined Monsanto since the beginning of
the corporation. Selling it was an indication of just how serious Monsanto was about
dominating the agricultural biotechnology industry.
Foundation com is the parent seed from which hybrids are made and
therefore essential to developing new varieties of com. Early in 1997, when the
debate over genetically modified food was still raging in the European Union,
Monsanto continued their seed company spending spree by purchasing Holdens
Foundation Seeds, one of the largest foundation com seed suppliers in North
Americai. For a little over one billion dollars, Monsanto became the biggest producer
of foundation com seed in the United States (Gilpin 1997).
Monsantos rise to the top of the biotechnology industry was facilitated by
patent law, but it was also fueled by billions of dollars and a corporate vision of the
future of food. Part of that corporate vision included introducing genetically modified
organisms into the food supply with consumers hardly noticing. In the United States,
agricultural biotechnology corporations lobbied government officials so food <
products containing genetically modified ingredients would not require new
regulations, or special labels. Labels were viewed by corporations such as Monsanto
as unnecessarily suggesting to consumers there was something different about the
product. In the United States, aggressive lobbying paid off for the agricultural
biotechnology industry. The only labels for genetically modified food in the United '
States are voluntary labels and they indicate a product does not contain genetically
In the European Union, the story was different. During 1996 and 1997 the
governing institutions were still struggling to define their approach to regulating
genetically modified food. The primary objective of the opposition movement, and
the Greenpeace International campaign specifically, was to convince the governing
institutions to adopt a precautionary approach to regulating genetically modified
food. The opposition movement did not want to see corporations such as Monsanto,
influence the regulatory approach of the European Union the way they had the United
States. To understand how genetically modified food has been analyzed prior to this
study, a review of the literature is next.
Review of the Literature
Several case studies on the political response to agricultural biotechnology
have demonstrated the different ways the subject can be studied. Analyzing the
regulatory approaches of the United States and the European Union in detail is a
popular choice, as is examining the agricultural biotechnology corporations
responsible for investing in the science of genetic engineering. A few studies have
also looked at how social movement organizations have altered their protest
strategies to target corporations instead of governments.
Vogel and Lynch (2001) study the regulatory differences between the United
States and Europe. In the case of genetically modified food, Vogel and Lynch
provide insights about how the regulations for agricultural biotechnology were
developed. Their study examines the risk assessment and regulatory approaches for
public health and the environment, and a comparison of European and American
policies. The study reveals that while the United States had stricter environmental
legislation than European countries did during the 1960s and 1970s, by the 1990s the
situation was reversed and the U.S. fell behind the environmentally progressive EU.
Schurman (2004) identifies the major factors contributing to the success of
the movement against genetically modified food in the European Union, emphasizing
the strategy of targeting corporations rather than government institutions.
Acknowledging social movement theory and the literature on political opportunity
structures, Schurman switches the focus of analysis from political structures to
industry structures when corporations are the target of social movements (Schurman
Schurman attributes the shift to targeting corporations as the result of
globalization and the expansion of information technologies which have increased
the power of multinational corporations and international institutions such as the
World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. Schurman argues
that instead of targeting national governments, social movement organizations need
to keep pace with the shift in power by targeting multinational corporations and the
international institutions which them.
Kettnakers (2005) study focuses on the movement against genetically
modified food in the European Union during the years 1995 to 1997 and looks at
some of the factors influencing the movement, including Greenpeace Internationals
campaign. Kettnaker acknowledges the significance of targeting corporations in
much the same way Schurman does, but focuses her examination on the events of
protest with a more quantitative approach. References are made to mad cow disease
and the ineffectiveness of the legislative process, but Kettnakers primary analysis
remains focused on the protests.
Kettnaker (2005) also discusses the link between transnational protest
organizations such as Greenpeace, and the supranational nature of the EU governing
institutions. According to Kettnaker, actions by member states were influential in the
debate over genetically modified food, particularly within the Council of Ministers,
despite the supranational structure of the EU. As a result, the national governments
of member states continue to be seen as conduits for change attempting to influence
the supranational structure with their national approaches. Kettnaker argues that if
the supranational institutions increase their power in the future, those institutions will
increasingly be targeted in future protests.
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (PIFB) is a research project
established in 2001 which claims to be an objective source of information about
genetically modified food. PfFBs goal is to provide information about agricultural
biotechnology and encourage discussion on the topic. The reports are examinations
of agricultural trade between the United States and the European Union, and the main
reasons why the EU was so opposed to genetically modified food.
Theoretical Framework: Social Movement Theory
This section provides an overview of social movement theory and the
political process theory. Social movement theory developed from attempts to
understand why social movements emerge. Early versions of this theory came from a
social psychology perspective and attempted to explain social movements as
psychological responses to broad social processes such as urbanization, or
industrialization (McAdam 1982; McAdam, McCarthy, Zald 1996). This cause and
effect rationale of early social movement theory explained collective action in
general and structural terms, but failed to incorporate other factors which could
explain more specifically why social movements emerge in some situations and not
The movement against genetically modified food, for example, emerged
within the European Unions political structure, but was influenced by other factors
as well. The political process theory focuses on these other factors, such as the
framing processes' and protest strategies (McAdam 1982; McAdam, McCarthy, Zald
1996). As this study will apply the political process theory to the Greenpeace
International campaign against genetically modified food in the European Union, I
will discuss the central components of the political process theory in more detail.
The Political Process Theory
The main components of the political process theory used to analyze the
Greenpeace campaign in this study are the political opportunity structure in the EU,
and the framing processes and protest strategies of Greenpeace International. While
the earliest definitions of what might constitute a political opportunity were vague
and virtually any social crisis that facilitated movement activity could be considered
a political opportunity, efforts have been made within the past decade to narrow the
scope of definition and give the concept more analytical significance (McAdam,
McCarthy, Zald 1996).
The political opportunity structure describes the extent to which a political
system is open or closed. Being aware of this open or closed status and the
significance it could hold for social movement activity was first articulated by Alex
de Tocqueville in his comparisons of French and American society (Tarrow, et al
McAdam, McCarthy, Zald 1996). De Tocqueville believed there was a connection
between the numerous civic associations in America and the openness of the
government. When he compared the French government and society at the time, he
perceived the French government to be less open than the American government and
the French people less likely to participate in civic activities. De Tocqueville may
have idealized American society and missed some of the existing inequalities, but he
made a noteworthy contribution to political thought when he introduced the
relationship between the openness of the government institutions and the level of
civic participation. Political process theory prbvides a framework to analyze the
relationship between the openness of the established political system and the level of
civic participation (Tarrow, et al Me Adam, McCarthy, Zald 1996).
The governing institutions of the EU were not in agreement about genetically'
modified food. After approving Monsantos Roundup Ready soybeans for import, the
Commission took several months to make a decision about the transgenic com
known as Zea mays L, but it was still less time than it took the Council and
Parliament to pass the Novel Foods Regulation. Both delays were crucial openings in
the political opportunity structure of the EU. Greenpeace International took
advantage of member state opposition in the Council, which held up the passage of
the Novel Foods Regulation, but more importantly took advantage of the delays in
approving Zea mays L for import. The Greenpeace campaign used the time to frame
genetically modified food as a food safety issue, and plan their protest strategies. A
more in depth description of framing pro'cesses and protest strategies is next.
Framing Processes and Protest Strategies
In addition to the political opportunity structure, the political process theory
also emphasizes the role of ideas and shared meanings. According to the political
process theory, political opportunities can create the potential for collective action,
but collective action will only occur if people believe their actions are meaningful
(Gamson and Meyer, et al McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996). Framing processes
are attempts to give an issue meaning. Complex scientific information is often
involved, but according to the political process theory, social movement
organizations have a better chance of being successful if they are able to translate the
information to their advantage with an effective framing process.
In their 1996-97 campaign against genetically modified food in the European
Union, Greenpeace International demonstrated the significance of the image of
genetically modified food. By using provocative messages and dramatic protest
strategies, the campaign was able to effectively frame genetically modified food as a
threat to food safety, even though there was no scientific proof. More on framing
processes and protest strategies in Chapter Three, but first a discussion of the
methodology and data collection to conclude Chapter One.
This study examines the ways Greenpeace International used framing
processes and protest strategies to take advantage of the political opportunity
structure in the European Union during their 1996-97 campaign. A case study
approach will incorporate collecting newspaper articles from the European Union
discussing the debate over genetically modified food and identifying relationships
between the protest activity and the policymaking of the EU governing institutions.
A case study is defined as a strategy of inquiry whereby the researcher
explores a process, an event, or a series of events in detail. The study is confined
within a certain time period and detailed information is accumulated using a specific
data collection procedure (Creswell 2003). The value of a case study can be in the
testing a hypothesis and contributing to the development of theory (George and
Bennett 2005). The objective of this case study is to use the political process theory
to analyze what kind of contribution the 1996-97 Greenpeace International campaign
made to the overall movement against genetically modified food in the EU.
The method of process-tracing is a social science research method which
attempts to trace the links between possible causes and observed outcomes. In
process-tracing the researcher can examine archival documents such as newspapers
and magazines to see whether identifiable links exist between protest activity and
policy decisions. Process-tracing is well-suited to testing theories when there are
several independent variables involved (George and Bennett 2005).
Archival research is central to this study because the debate over genetically
modified food received considerable coverage in European newspapers, which in
turn educated the public about the issue and put pressure on the governing
institutions to respond with a cautionary regulatory approach. I conducted searches in
the Lexus Nexus database focusing on the years 1996 and 1997, beginning with a
search of world news using European sources and keywords genetically modified
food and Greenpeace. British sources provided the bulk of articles used in this
study primarily because they were in English. A business news search with mergers
and acquisitions sources was used to obtain information about the agricultural
biotechnology giants, Monsanto and Ciba Geigy, who developed the two transgenic
food crops at the center of the European controversy. The majority of the data used in
this study was collected during the summer of 2006.
A variety of secondary sources were also used to research the science of
genetic engineering and the growth of the agricultural biotechnology industry. The
European Union also required secondary sources for background information in
order to understand the functions and designated responsibilities of the three main
governing institutions involved in the genetically modified food debate.
The significance of this study is derived from the potential impact social
movement organizations can have on policy-making when they are capable of
effectively framing an issue and develop corresponding protest strategies. Much can
be learned from analyzing a campaign that was able to take advantage of a political
opportunity structure. Analyzing specific campaigns and their outcomes can therefore
contribute not only to the development of the political process theory, but to the
success of other campaigns facing political opportunity structures.
The limitation of this study is the challenge of identifying precise connections
between the framing processes and protest strategies of Greenpeace International,
and the policymaking decisions made by the governing institutions of the European
Union. Connections can be inferred, but it will be difficult to precisely conclude that
a specific protest influenced a particular policy.
Arrangement of Thesis
As Chapter One served as an introduction to the topic of genetically modified
food and the research tools used to conduct this study, Chapter Two will provide
necessary background information necessary to understand the science of genetic
engineering, the governing institutions in the European Union where the debate
would be played out in policymaking, and the approaches to regulation relevant to
the debate. Chapter Three is.the case study examining how thel996-97 Greenpeace
International campaign took advantage of the political opportunity structure in the
EU, how the issue of genetically modified food was framed, what protest strategies
were used, and how the targets responded. Chapter Four consists of an assessment of
the contribution made by the 1996-97 Greenpeace International campaign to the
overall movement against genetically modified food in the European Union, an
update on the debate today, and suggestions for future research.
This chapter will provide information about the factors involved in the debate
over genetically modified food in the European Union. The chapter begins with a
discussion of the science of genetic engineering in agriculture, and the European
Union governing institutions involved in the debate over genetically modified food.
The remainder of the chapter will focus the origins of the Greenpeace organization
and the campaigns which resulted in the organizations international notoriety.
Genetically Modified Food
Genetic engineering in agriculture involves inserting a gene with a desirable
trait, such as resistance to herbicides, into the genome of a plant cell so the plant
possesses a resistance to the herbicide. The desired trait genes pertinent to this study
are a microorganism resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsantos
Roundup herbicide, and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium which produces
a protein toxic to pests which ingest it (The Seed Industry 2003). The Br gene has
been used in commercial insecticides since 1958 because while it kills certain pests,
it is safe for humans (Charles 2001; Pringle 2003; Nottingham 1998).
The Gene Insertion Package
The process of inserting a foreign gene into the genome of a plant is not as
easy. Historically the rate of success has been extremely low, only one in about
10,000 attempts actually works, which is why more than one gene is needed to
increase the rate of success and ensure a certain amount of efficiency in the overall
process (Herbert 2006). Three other types of genes are commonly included when
inserting a desirable trait gene into the genome of a plant cell (Charles 2001;
Nottingham 1998; Pringle 2003).
Most gene insertion packages include a vector gene to transport the desired
trait gene into the genome of a for'eign plant. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a soil
bacterium which is attracted to the chemicals released from a wounded plant. When
it invades the genome of the plant, it transfers some of its DNA, which causes a
tumor-like growth on the plant. The ability to naturally invade the genome of a plant
is what made it so attractive to genetic engineers (Charles 2001; Nottingham 1998;
The cauliflower mosaic virus is an another organism commonly used in gene
insertion packages. It discolors the surface of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and
cauliflower, but is harmless to humans. Its function is to activate other genes because
while a desirable trait gene can be successfully transported into the genome of a
foreign plant by a vector gene, it can lie dormant in its new environment. A gene
which is good at activating other genes is known as a promoter gene, and the
cauliflower mosaic virus is so good at activating other genes it is known as a super-
promoter (Charles 2001; Pringle 2003; Nottingham 1996; Notthingham 1998).
Monsanto applied for a broad patent on the cauliflower mosaic virus in 1984. Ten
years later the patent was granted. As a result, any company which wants to include
the super-promoter in their gene insertion package has to pay Monsanto for it-
There is one more gene commonly used in the gene insertion padkage. After
the vector gene transports the desirable trait gene into the genome and the promoter
gene activates it, a selectable marker gene identifies the cells which have been
successfully transformed. Since the most widely used marker genes confer a
resistance to an antibiotic, successfully transformed cells are identified by their
ability to survive a dose of the antibiotic (Charles 2001; Pringle 2003; Nottingham
1998). Zea mays L, for example, Ciba Geigys Bt com at the center of so much
controversy in the EU, contained a marker gene resistant to the commonly used
antibiotic Ampicillin (Coghlan 1996).
The Significance of Soybeans and Corn
Transgenic crops are crops which contain foreign genes through the process
of genetic engineering (Lappe and Bailey. 1998; Nottingham 1998). The most
common transgenic crops in the world are resistant to a particular herbicide.
Monsantos Roundup Ready soybeans, for example, are resistant to Monsantos
herbicide Roundup. In addition to containing the Bt gene making it resistant to the
com borer, Zea mays L was resistant to Ciba Geigys herbicide Basta (Coghlan
After herbicide-resistance, the second most common desirable transgenic
crop is resistant to crop-eating insects, such as the European com borer or the cotton
bollworm. Since different crops can be paired with different desirable trait genes
depending on the needs of the'farmer, corporations can pursue crops according to the
technology and seed companies they have access to (Charles 2001).
Soybeans and com are the two most dominant crops in American agriculture.
Together they cover as much .acreage as all of the other crops combined. Every year
the U.S. produces fifteen billion dollars worth*of soybeans and twenty billion dollars
worth of com (Charles 2001). Both.crops are used extensively as animal feed, but
they are also pervasive in processed foods. Derivatives of soybeans can be found in
an estimated 60% of all processed food products including bread, sauces, frozen
meals and pizzas (Durham 1996). Lecithin, for example, is a common soybean
derivative used in sweet products such as chocolate and ice cream (Hollingerl996).
One notable distinction between soybeans and com involves seed-saving. If
farmers save part of their soybean crop to be used for seed the following year, they
can produce roughly the same yield year after year. Com seed, however, loses vigor
in the next generation so farmers buy new com seed every year in order to keep their
The seed business has always been a low profit venture because of seed-
saving, but in the 1920s knowledge about the increased vigor of hybrid com seed was
expanding and the seed business got a bit of a boost. The development of com
hybridization technology led to more private corporations pursuing their own
breeding programs (The Seed Industry 2003).
In addition to covering the most acreage in the United States, soybeans and
com are also the two most important commodity crops, in terms of volume and
income, for American fanners (An Examination of 2005). The European Union'is a
major market for U.S. soybeans and com, which is why a possible rejection of U.S.
soybeans and com exports fueled talk of a trade war in the fall of 1996 (Schurman
2004; An Examination of 2005). Just one year earlier the EU had imported $500
million worth of com and more than $2 billion worth of soybeans from the United
States, so there was a lot of pressure on the EU governing institutions to avoid a trade
war (Maitland 1996).
The problem for the EU was the transgenic crops were not segregated from *
the conventional crops. Monsantos Roundup Ready soybeans and Ciba Geigys Zea
mays L were mixed in with the entire U.S. soybean and com crop so if the EU
rejected the transgenic com Zea mays L, the entire U.S. com crop would have to be
rejected (Farming: A Moral Maize 1996). The tension this lack of segregation created
could be felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Europeans thought the United States was
trying to dictate what they ate (Hornsby1996; Arthur 1996) and the American
perspective was summarized by the Chief Agriculture Officer to the European Union
at the time, George Pope:
This whole issue has really touched a nerve, but the problem is, where do you
draw the line? What many Europeans do not realize is that the bam door has
been blown wide.open and the horse is gone. Genetically modified enzymes
are now present in all cheese, yogurt and yeast products that they consume.
There is a slew of new products out there, everything from com to tomatoes
to the ink in ballpoint pens that have genetically changed material. The point
is that it would be just about impossible to label everything. And if Europeans '
just try to single out soybeans, it would look pretty much like an anti-
American ploy (Drozdiak 1996).
The European Union
If the perspective in the United States was that Europe was demonstrating
some anti-Americanism, it was not far off from the reality of European integration.
Countries in Europe began forming what would become the European Union after
world war two. Infrastructures and economies needed to be repaired and rebuilt. It
took fifty years and several legislative achievements, but by 1996 fifteen countries
were part of the European Union.
The governing institutions of the European Union directly involved in the
genetically modified food debate were the European Commission, the Council of
Ministers, and the European Parliament. As the'executive institution of the EU, the
Commission is responsible for proposing legislation. The Commission consists of
appointed officials from the member states, but is organized and designed to
represent the interests of the European community as a whole rather than the member
states individually. In this respect it is the most.supranational of the governing
institutions (Soden and Steel 1999; Dinan 1999; Richardsonl996).
During the debate over genetically modified food, the Commission was the
first governing institution to receive market requests for transgenic crops. The
Commission had an Advisory Committee to consult with, but Commission members
made the final decision.
The Council of Ministers represent their national governments from a variety
of sectors and should not be confused with the European Council, which consists of
heads of state. The Council determines which legislation proposed by the
Commission is enacted into law and what form it takes. As a result of this capacity
to approve legislation, the Council maintains a central position of power within the
EU. In its infancy the Council was required to reach unanimous decisions, so if one
member state was adamantly opposed to a particular proposal, it could not be passed.
This unanimous requirement contributed to the Councils reputation as being slow
and inefficient (Soden and Steel 1999; Dinan 1999; Richardson 1996; Hunter and
Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by the citizens of
the EU, but while the Parliament is considered weak compared to the Commission
and Council, the Parliament did experience an increase in policymaking power as a
result of the Treaty of the European Union in 1992 (Soden and Steele 1999; Dinan
1999). The Treaty of the European Union increased the influence of the Parliament
by providing members with some limited veto power in certain circumstances. If the
Council and Commission disagreed on a proposal, for example, the Parliament could
veto it. If a majority of Parliament members agreed, a specific issue contained within
a proposal could be amended. The Council was then left to decide whether to
approve the proposal with the Parliaments amendments, or submit their own
amendments. If the Parliament and Council ultimately agree on a proposal after
amendments had been made, they were viewed as cooperating and co-deciding
(Richardson 1996; Dinan 1999; Hunter and Smith 2005). In the debate over
genetically modified food in 1996 and 97, both the Parliament and Council amended
the original draft of the Novel Foods Regulation, a process that took years.
Qualified majority voting was designed to speed up the legislative process. At
first it limited to internal market issues, but eventually qualified majority voting was
extended to include policies concerning the environment and consumer protection
(Richardson1996; Hunter and Smith 2005). Qualified majority voting requires 72 per
cent of the member states to vote in favor of a proposal for it to be approved (Cowles
and Dinan 2004). With fifteen member states at the time of the debate over
genetically modified food in 1996, eleven member states had to vote in favor of a
proposal for it to pass. Looking at a different way, five member states could block a
proposal from passing, which is what happened with the Novel Foods Regulation
(Novel Foods: EU Consumer 1996; European Consumers 1996).
The Novel Foods Regulation was the major piece of legislation dealing with
genetically modified food. While Directive 90/220 on the Release of Genetically
Modified Organisms was used to approve transgenic crops for import, the Novel
Foods Regulation outlined how food products containing>the transgenic crops would
be labeled. Member states in the Council disagreed about how restrictive the Novel
Foods Regulation should be. A few of the member states argued it was too weak and
would allow too many products to avoid labeling.
The battle over the'strictness of the Novel Foods Regulation would plague the
Council for years and characterize the debate about genetically modified food. With
agricultural biotechnology corporations and American trade officials eager to export
under the influence of an economic-based approach to regulation, the governing
institutions of the EU were in a tight spot. Some member states emphasized a more
social-based, cautionary approach to regulation more than others, so it was a struggle
at the supranational level to determine how precautionary the EU was going to be
when it came to genetically modified food.
The Precautionary Principle
The precautionary principle originated in Germany in the 1970s to deal with
environmental issues such as acid rain and pollution in the North Sea. Translated
from the German vorsorgeprinzip, or the foresight principle, it was described by a
Dutch scientist who wrote extensively on the approach as "an ideal way of doing
politics because you dont have to prove anything (Miller 2003).
The basic element of the precautionary principle assesses risk to public health
and the environment when scientific uncertainty exists. The motivation for
establishing the precautionary principle was to have a basis for action even when
there was no clear evidence of harm (Vig and Faure 2004). One of the drawbacks of
the principle is the absence of a more precise analytical framework. It is an approach
without a specific definition, and with the exception of certain institutions in
Germany there is no institutional structure on a national, or international level for
precautionary decision-making (Tickner 1997).
The Single European Act, enacted in 1992, was the first treaty to document
the precautionary principle as a basis for policymaking. It was to be used when the
data available was inconclusive or insufficient. The Single European Act also stated
that member states could enact more stringent policies in their own countries if they
believed the EU policies were insufficient (Hunter and Smith 2005).
The European Commission was the governing institution responsible for
approving new products for import. Market requests were submitted to the
Commission, which had an Advisory Committee to make recommendations. Three
transgenic crops had been approved for import before Monsanto submitted their
market request in 1995, but Roundup Ready soybeans were the first food crop
approved for import into the European Union (Marketing Authorization 1996).
Ciba Geigy, a Swiss corporation, also submitted a market request in 1995, but
it was not approved as quickly as Monsantos soybeans. Known as Zea mays L, Ciba
Geigys transgenic com was a major source of controversy during 1996 and 97. The
Commissions delay in approving Zea mays L allowed Greenpeace International time
to effectively frame Zea mays L as a potential health risk. Monsanto was targeted as
an aggressive American corporation, Zea mays L was targeted as a human health
risk. Since Greenpeace the subject of some analysis in this study, the chapter
concludes with some background on the origins and historic campaigns of the
original Vancouver Greenpeace organization which set the standard for years to
Greenpeace originated in Vancouver in the early 1970s. Some of the
founding members were Americans avoiding the draft, and a few were members of
the Quaker Society of Friends. The act of bearing witness is one of the Quaker
articles of faith. If you witness a moral injustice, the belief is you should share it with
others if you want to change the moral injustice. This act of bearing witness played a
key role in some of Greenpeaces earliest campaigns and help shape the character of
the organization in the future (Wyler 2004; Lamb 1998).
Greenpeaces first campaign in 1971 was directed at the United States .
government for conducting underground tests of nuclear weapons on Amchitka
Island off the coast of Alaska. Demonstrations were organized and Bob Hunter, one
of the founding members, wrote protest columns in the Vancouver newspaper he
worked for, but ultimately it was the idea of sailing a ship to the test site which
would bring the group of activists into the spotlight and help shape the organizations
signature style of campaigning. Even though Greenpeace failed to stop the test that
year, the strategy and tactics used were considered a success and would be replicated
in future campaigns. The groups pacifist-opposition to nuclear weapons testing
became the basis for the peace in Greenpeace (Wyler 2004; Lamb 1998).
Greenpeace achieved their first international notoriety during their save the
whales campaign. Greenpeace activists chartered a boat and sailed to the middle of
the Pacific Ocean looking for Russian whaling ships. Once they spotted the Russians,
Greenpeace activists climbed in inflatable dinghies and positioned themselves
between the ships and the whales. Photographs of the huge ships and harpoons next
to Greenpeace activist in dinghies appeared in newspapers around the world, '
captivating an international audience and making some world leaders reconsider their
stance on whaling (Wyler 2004).
When activists protested the clubbing of baby seals in Newfoundland,
Greenpeaces next campaign to achieve international ilotoriety, activists not only
bore witness to the events, they got right in the middle of them. This tactic of literally
putting themselves between the perpetrators and the victims would be repeated by
Greenpeace activists during protests against transgenic crop imports to the EU in
1996. Greenpeace International had activists chaining themselves to cargo ships in
several European ports, effectively putting themselves between the perceived threat
and the potential victims (Wyler 2004; Lamb 1998; Conca and Dabelko 2004) A
more in depth analysis of the 1996,-97 Greenpeace International campaign against-
genetically modified food in the European Union is ne-xt.
GREENPEACE INTERNATIONALS 1996-97 CAMPAIGN AGAINST
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
The focus of this chapter is to examine the contribution Greenpeace
International made to the movement against genetically modified food in the
European Union. By analyzing how Greenpeace took advantage of the political
opportunity structure in the EU, how the issue of genetically modified food was
framed, and what protest strategies were used it will be possible to assess what kind
of impact the 1996-97 campaign had on the outcome of the debate. Figure 1.1 (p.69)
provides a time line of the decisions made by the governing institutions, including
actions by member states within the Council, and the actions of Greenpeace
The Political Opportunity Structure
During 1996 and 1997 the European Union was in turmoil over the issue of
genetically modified food. The governing institutions could not agree on a regulatory
approach so the political opportunity structure was open to influence. The
Greenpeace International campaign took advantage of three opportunities; the
publics concern about food safety after mad cow disease, the different regulatory
approaches of the U.S. and the EU, and the existence of member state opposition. I
will now discuss these three opportunities in more detail.
Gene-splicing in agricultural biotechnology involves patenting living
organisms and inserting them into commodity crops. Most transgenic crops have
been grown in the United States and have been largely accepted by the American
people. Europe often bans new food technologies, however; regardless of their
acceptance in the United States (Farming: A Moral Maize 1996). A series of food
scares during the 1990s, including a serious outbreak of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, awakened many
Europeans concerns about the safety of their food supply (An Examination 2005;
Pringle 2003; Charles 2001).
During the mad cow crisis in Europe, government officials initially claimed
British beef posed no risks to human health, but when a link was made between BSE
and Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, the publics trust in the government eroded
quickly. Despite having nothing to do with genetically modified food, mad cow
disease generated a fear about food safety, and a skepticism among the European
public about the credibility of the information they were receiving from the
government. According to a Eurobarometer public opinion survey conducted in
2002, Europeans trusted consumer and environmental organizations more than
national governments to tell them the truth about biotechnology (An Examination
Different Regulatory Approaches
In addition to the mood of fear and distrust created by mad cow disease, the
political opportunity structure offered another opening. While the United States
considers transgenic crops to be the same as conventional crops and requires no
special regulations to market them, in 1996 the European Union was trying to
develop legislation to differentiate transgenic crops from conventional crops.
Isaac (2002) discusses the two fundamental differences in regulatory
approaches to trade. According to Isaac, the-economic approach to regulation
considers free trade and market efficiency to be of primary significance and
technological innovations are considered indicators of progress. In contrast, social-
based approaches value the protection of public health and the environment more
than economic interests, and technological innovations are not considered beneficial
just because they may have a positive effect on the market. When considering a
technological innovation, the social-based perspective is concerned with how the
technology will be applied, who will control it, and how it will be distributed. While
the regulatory approach to trade in the U.S. emphasizes economic interests, the EU
approach can be viewed as incorporating a more social-based approach.
The government agencies responsible for the regulation of agricultural
biotechnology in the United States include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) (Maitland 1996). In the case of transgenic crops, the major question for
these agencies was whether regulations should apply to the process of genetic
engineering or the final products resulting from it. If it was determined that the
process of genetic engineering needed to be regulated, then new regulations would be
necessary. If the final products of genetic engineering were to be considered, a
standard referred to as the principle of substantial equivalence would be applied and
no new regulations would be required (Vogel and Lynch 2001) Using chemical
composition to evaluate nutritional content, transgenic crops were deemed by federal
agencies to be substantially equivalent to their conventional crops,"and therefore did
not require any new regulations (Maitland 1996).
While the free trade regulatory approach of the United States allowed
Monsantos transgenic soybeans and Ciba-Geigys transgenic Zea mays L to be
approved for commercial use in the U.S. without any new regulations, the European
Union .had Directive 90/220/EEC awaiting transgenic crop imports (Novel Foods:
EU 1996). According to Directive 90/220, a corporation wishing to market a
transgenic crop in the European Union needed a member state to submit a marketing
request to the Commission on their behalf. The market request is reviewed by an
Advisory Committee, which can then make recommendations to the Commission. In
order to reject a market request, the vote against must be unanimous. In order to
approve a market request, a qualified majority must vote in favor (Environment
In 1996, a qualified majority was eleven of fifteen member states. The market
request for Zea mays L was the first transgenic crop not to pass the first phase of the
EU approval process. Zea mays L was not approved by a qualified majority, but was
not rejected unanimously either, so the decision moved to the Council where member
states had a chance to vote (Coghlan 1996).Once again, eleven votes in favor and Zea
mays L would be approved for import, but a qualified majority of member states was
not in favor.
The other relevant piece of legislation involved in the struggle to establish a
consistent regulatory approach to genetically modified food was the Novel Foods
Regulation. Consumer organizations had been lobbying for labeling since the
beginning of the debate, but the original draft of the Novel Foods Regulation did not
require products to be labeled if modified DNA could not be detected after
processing. Since most food products containing genetically modified ingredients
were processed, consumer organizations and some of the member states in the
Council considered the Novel Foods Regulation to be weak and virtually useless
(European Consumers 1996).
The United States was clearly taking an economic-based approach to
regulating genetically modified food by essentially not regulating genetically
modified food. The goal of the opposition movement in the EU was to convince the
governing institutions in the EU, to establish a more social-based, cautionary
approach to regulating genetically modified food. Member state opposition in the
Council would play a major role in the outcome of this regulatory struggle.
Member State Opposition
For a short time, June of 1996, the fate of Zea mays L would be in the hands
of the Council. Needing eleven member states to vote in favor for import approval,
Zea mays L did not even come close to being approved by the Council. Only
Frances unwavering support kept Zea mays L from being rejected altogether. When
the Council could not approve or reject Zea mays L and sent the market request back
to the Commission, the Commission considered withdrawing the proposal for Zea
mays L altogether. In reference to the opposition from member states in the Council,
the genetic engineering coordinator for Greenpeace International, Isabelle Meister,
remarked: Its the first time ministers have applied the precautionary approach, and
the Commission should withdraw the proposal (Coghlan 1996).
When new scientific evidence was submitted to the Commission late in July,
the Commission put off making a decision about Zea mays L again, assigning three
scientific committees to examine the new information. The Scientific Committee on
Food, the Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition, and the Scientific Committee
for Pesticides were supposed to submit reports to the Commission by August of
1996, but the reports were not submitted until November (Genetic Engineering:
Transgenic 1996). As a result, from July to December of 1996, the fate of Zea mays
L was unknown. That was a long time for such an intensely disputed issue to remain
unresolved. The opposition from member states complicated what may have
otherwise been an easy decision for the Commission. Without the Councils support,
the Commission would have to stand alone in advocating an economically-influenced
approach to regulating genetically modified food.
Member state opposition was also apparent after the Commission approved
Zea mays L for import in December of 1996. Austria was the first member state to
invoke what was known as the Safeguard Clause Article 16 of Directive 90/220
stated that any member state could, if they felt there were possible environmental or
health risks involved with a product, ban that product from their country for at least
three months. Shortly after Austria invoked the Safeguard Clause in February of
1997, Luxembourg soon followed (Transgenic Maize: France, Austria, and
Luxembourg 1997). Only a few of the member states invoked the Safeguard Clause,
but the statement was; unwavering opposition from at least a few member states.
That proved to be enough to delay the passage of the Novel Foods Regulation for
over three years, and delays favored the precautionary principle. A closer look at how
the Greenpeace International campaign took advantage of the delays influenced by
member state opposition is next.
While the outbreak of mad cow disease created a mood of fear and distrust,
and member state opposition in the Council challenged the regulatory process in the
EU, it was critical for Greenpeace International to make their protest strategy fit the
openings in the political opportunity structure. The campaign used two major protest
strategies to accomplish this goal. Both will be outlined in the following section.
The World Food Day Protests
Unilever and Nestle are two of Europes largest food manufacturers and
among the biggest food manufacturers in the world. They receive the raw materials
such as soybeans and com from suppliers and incorporate them into a variety food
products. Soybeans alone are used in sixty percent of processed food products sold in
the United States (Durham 1996). The United Nations declared October 16th World
Food Day so the Greenpeace campaign took advantage of the opportunity to launch a
series of simultaneous protests against importing transgenic crops (Greenpeace
Protests 1996). Greenpeace activists displayed provocative warnings about the safety
of genetically modified food in front of Unilever and Nestle headquarters in several
The strategy of the World Food Day protests was to bring attention to the role
food manufacturers such as Unilever and Nestle played in the debate, including the
weight they could pull if they decided to boycott transgenic soy and com. Unilever
and Nestle had nothing to do with genetically engineering the seeds, but they used
the resulting crops in their processed food products. If the protests could raise the
level of consumer demand for non-modified sources of soy and com, Unilever and
Nestle might be convinced seeking out non-modified sources was worth doing. If
only in Germany, where opposition to genetically modified food was the strongest,
this strategy actually worked. Unilever and Nestle in Germany boycotted transgenic
soy and com (Drozdiak 1996).
The Cargo Ship Protests
Dramatic protests entice media coverage when the issue is of interest to the
public (Zald et al McAdam, McCarthy, Zald 1996). Greenpeace had a dramatic style
of campaigning that was well-established and even though they often used what a
New Scientist (1997) editorial referred to as alarmist rhetoric to get their message
across, their campaign against genetically modified food managed to raise the
stakes of the debate as a result of their cargo ship protests (If its Safe 1997).
The so-called alarmist rhetoric of Greenpeace was used to portray the
transgenic crops aboard the cargo ships as not only a threat to food safety in Europe,
but a subversive threat because the transgenic crops were not segregated from the
conventional crops before being shipped to Europe. When Greenpeace activists
protested shipments of soybeans arriving in Liverpool, Simon Reddy of Greenpeace
This dockside represents the flood gates for genetic pollution. Cargill wanted
to bring it in without telling anyone and then mix it in our food without
giving people any choice, claimed Mr. Reddy. Its underhand, devious and
wrong. The public does not benefit from this genetic engineering. We cant
risk releasing it into the environment (Greenpeace Stages 1996)
Monsanto and the grain traders Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland claimed
segregating transgenic .crops was impractical and costly, but as long as Greenpeace
continued to frame genetically modified food as a threat to food safety, the American
corporations on the supply end were vulnerable to being cast as underhand, devious,
Michelle Sheather, a Greenpeace International genetic engineering
coordinator, had a similar message about the subversive nature of the multinational
corporations and their transgenic crops: Food processors thought they could slip this
in to our food without telling us, but this is a huge experiment with food and nature
and people dont want it (GMOS: Consumers 1996).
Part of the protest strategy included sending a provocative message, but it was
also, necessary to back the message up with dramatic action. Greenpeace
organizations have been using ships since the very first Greenpeace campaigns so the
crops coming to Europe in cargo ships fit their protest strategy perfectly. Greenpeace
activists used their own ships and inflatable dinghies to reach the cargo ships as they
arrived in European ports. Activists then chained themselves to the cargo ships, or
the docks, they were trying to reach. Banners with provocative messages were
displayed while activists temporarily held up the ship, ensuring a steady stream of
anti-genetically modified food slogans were absorbed by photographers and the
The Ideal Progress was one of the first ships carrying soybeans to arrive.
There was no way to know if any of Monsantos genetically engineered soybeans
were on board, but when the Ideal Progress entered the Hamburg port in Germany,
activists used a slide projector to cast We are not your guinea pigs onto the ships
hull (Dongowski 1996). Stories and photographs of the protest appeared in European
newspapers, but also in both the New York Times and the Washington Post
(Drozdiak 1996; Ibrahim 1996).
When the Ziemia Zamojska entered the port in Antwerp, Belgium, some
activists chained themselves to the ship and tied a dinghy to its rudder so it could not
get through the lock (Bray 1996). Up the river in Ghent, activists delayed the docking
of the Bunga SagaEmpat long enough for Cargill to need a court injunction to get
the ship through the blockade (Greenpeace Blocks U.S. Shipment 1996).
Greenpeace activists were still chaining themselves to ships like the Desiree
(Greenpeace in Crops Protest 1996) when the Commission finally approved Zea
mays L for import in the middle of December. Protesting outside of the EU
headquarters in Brussels, Greenpeace activist Isabelle Meister once again repeated
the Greenpeace warning about the dangers of genetically modified food: Europe is
opening the floodgates to widespread environmental and health hazards (Ames
1996). In reference to the Commissions decision to approve Zea mays L despite
overwhelming opposition from member states in the Council, Greenpeace
spokeswoman in Brussels, Louise Gale, stated: They have made a big mistake. We
are going to call on member states to stop this coming into their countries and to take
the Commission to court (Bates 1996).
The January 1997 Protests
Even though Zea mays L was finally approved in December of 1996, it was
clear Greenpeace was not done protesting when in January of 1997 the Unilever and
Nestle headquarters were targeted once again. Now that the transgenic soybeans and
com were within Europes borders, the protest strategy of the Greenpeace campaign
shifted back to pressuring the food manufacturers who used the soybeans and com in
so, many of their processed food products. Simultaneous demonstrations were staged
at the Unilever and Nestle headquarters in several European cities, including the
Unilever headquarters in Brussels where five tons of soybeans were dumped at the
entrance to the building (Greenpeace Lobbies 1997).
A banner reading Authentic, not genetic hung down the front of the Nestle
headquarters in Switzerland, while the Nestle headquarters in Frankfurt was draped
with a banner reading Put a halt to Nestle no genetic techniques in food
(Greenpeace Lobbies 1997). Activists in Prague dressed in lab coats and held a large
banner reading Stop genetic experiments with foodstuffs (Greenpeace Blockade
The protests targeting Unilever and Nestle may not have been as visually
dramatic as the cargo ships protests, but the messages often were. The New Scientist
(1997) may have considered the messages alarmist rhetoric, but the strategy behind
targeting the food manufacturers was to convince them not to use transgenic crops in
their products. The more alarming the message, the more concerned the consumers
would be about food safety. Protesting the manufacturers sent the message that if
manufacturers did not boycott transgenic crops, consumers might boycott them. This
was a risk some of the manufacturers were not willing to take.
The Framing Process
Prior to their arrival in European ports, transgenic crops were a topic of
conversation among genetic engineers, agricultural biotechnology corporations, seed
companies, and farmers. One of the challenges for the Greenpeace campaign was to
broaden the conversation from agriculture, to food, and specifically food safety. The
campaign used four basic messages; emphasize the unknown risks, demand
segregation, blame the Americans, and talk about antibiotic resistance.
Emphasize the Unknown Risks
The controversy over genetically modified food in the European Union was
fundamentally about safety and risk. Regulations were established in accordance with
how safe a product was perceived, or proven to be. The image of genetically
modified food was therefore central to the debate. The agricultural biotechnology
corporations claimed to have conducted exhaustive safety tests and argued there was
no proof indicating genetically modified was a health risk to humans (Maitland 1996)
but according to Tony Atkinson of the Duramed company, a member of the British
Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, the reason there was no proof,
was because: No one has yet looked at the effect of feeding a gene to lots of animals
day in and day out for years(MacKenzie 1997).
When Greenpeace spokespersons emphasized the unknowable risks
(Boulton 1996) they were borrowing language from the Precautionary Principle,
which advocated caution in times of scientific uncertainty. The message of
unknowable risks had the potential to be effective because Europeans were already
skeptical of new food technologies. Hit hard by the mad cow epidemic, Europeans
were susceptible to the idea that there were other potentially dangerous elements in
their food supply.
Labeling was a contentious issue in Europe during 1996 and 1997. While it
was fundamentally a consumer-based issue, labeling was not a simple demand to
achieve. Agricultural biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto preferred
consumers not have the option of avoiding products containing genetically modified
ingredients, which left food manufacturers, who would most likely carry the labeling
burden, stuck in the middle.
Since soybeans and com are commodity crops, all the crops are mixed
together. When the crops arrived in the EU they could be tested to identify
genetically modified DNA, which was no small task, but further complicating the
issue was the fact that it was not possible to detect modified DNA after the soybeans
and com were processed. The battle over the labeling requirements in the Novel
Foods Regulation waged for as long as it did because of this simple fact. You have to
know which crops are genetically modified before you process them if you want to *
label the final product as containing genetically modified ingredients. This was the
basis of the battle over the Novel Foods Regulation, and the demand for segregation.
In order to establish a strict labeling standard, it seemed the EU needed to know
which crops were genetically modified before they reached the EU.
Blame the Americans
From a protest strategy perspective, demanding segregation not only offered a
solution to the EUs labeling problem, it offered another framing opportunity for the
Greenpeace campaign. Since the transgenic crops were grown in the United States it
was possible to blame the Americans for not segregating them, especially during the
fall of 1996 when the fate of Zea mays L was still up in the air and there was talk of a
trade war. By demanding segregation, the Greenpeace campaign was effectively
challenging the U.S.s regulatory approach, suggesting it was to blame for the EUs
problems regulating genetically modified food. And it was not just Greenpeace
suggesting the Americans were to blame. British Environment Secretary John
Gummer remarked: It is true that the Americans are trying to force this on to Europe
without us making up our own minds about it, Mr. Gummer said. We are strong
enough to say to the Americans that we decide what we want in our food chain and
. not you (Hornsby 1996). The American economic approach to regulation dictated
putting free trade first and possible long term health risks second, so in a subtle way
demanding segregation implied the EU approach was right and the American
approach was wrong.
Talk About Antibiotic Resistance
At the heart of the Zea mays L debate was its selectable marker gene. As part
of the gene insertion package, the marker gene is linked with the desirable trait gene,
the vector gene, and a promoter gene. Unlike Monsantos transgenic soybeans which
contained a promoter gene harmless to humans, Zea mays L had a bacterial promoter
gene. Monsanto used the cauliflower mosaic virus, which only worked in plant cells,
but Zea mays L raised concerns because bacteria can be harmful to humans and
animals. The fear was that the marker gene in Zea mays'L, which was resistant to the
commonly used antibiotic Ampicillin, could transfer its antibiotic resistance to other
bacteria in the stomach. While this scenario could not be proven, Derek Burke,
chainnan of Britains Advisory Committee on Novel Foods commented: We
thought the risk was real enough to be concerned (Coghlan 1996).
. Greenpeace spokeswoman Isabelle Meister was once again quoted in the
European press: [T]he risk of the transfer of this antibiotic resistance gene to
microorganisms, including pathogenic microorganisms in the human digestive tract
cannot be ruled out (Environment Council 1996). Talking about antibiotic resistance
not only fit the overall objective of framing genetically modified food as a threat to
food safety, it was a specific example of an unknown risk.
Feedback From the Targets
The major targets for the Greenpeace International campaign were the
suppliers and manufacturers. The suppliers were American corporations growing and
exporting the crops, the manufacturers were based in Europe and used the crops in
processed food products. The suppliefs were targeted during the cargo ship protests,
while the World Food Day and January 1997 protests were directed at the
Targeting food'manufacturers such as Unilever and Nestle seemed to be
working as early as.the World Food Day Protests in October of 1996. Several
retailers announced they were going to pursue non-modified source of soybeans and
com (GMOS: Consumers Have 1996) Migros and Co-op, two of the biggest retailers
in Switzerland, announced they were urging their soybean suppliers to segregate the
genetically engineered beans so that consumers could be given a choice (Swiss in
Soybean Protest 1996).
Iceland Group was the first UK food retailer to publicly support Greenpeaces
campaign. Their CEO accused Monsanto of being irresponsible and called their
genetically modified soybeansFrankensteins soya beans. Kraft Jacobs Suchard, a
U.S. owned corporation, announced they would no longer use genetically modified
soybeans in their products (Harris 1996). The Sainsburys and Asda supermarket
chains decided to search for unmodified soybeans as well (The Independent 1996).
In December of 1996, the Nestle and Unilever corporations in Germany announced
they would use rape seed and sunflower instead of soy for margarine products (King
1996; Studemann 1996).
Feedback from Monsanto was mixed. Monsanto would consistently claim
segregation was impractical and costly and genetically modified food was perfectly
safe until it was apparent their image and their message about genetically modified
food needed a new direction. In 1997 Monsanto hired the Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad
agency in the UK to promote agricultural biotechnology as the only way to feed the
world (Butler 1997) but unfortunately for Monsanto, lobbying for approval in the EU
would not go as smoothly as it had in the United States. The principle of substantial
equivalence favored the agricultural biotechnology corporations in the U.S., but
according to John Vidal (1997) the amount of lobbying involved to achieve this was
The use of top-level PR and corporate lobbying has been central to the push
for biotechnology. In the U.S. the emerging biotech/pharmaceutical/agri-
business complex gives millions of dollars, quite literally, each year to
political parties and congressmen sitting on key food safety and regulatory
committees, according to the Centre for Responsible Politics in Washington
which tracks corporate donations.
In reference to the lobby power of the agricultural biotechnology industry the
director of the Pure Food Campaign, Ronnie Cummins said: It now rivals the oil
industry for weight and influence. The companies spend millions to globalize further
food production and biotech (Vidal 1997). In addition to making political
contributions, Monsanto also participated in the so-called revolving door between
government and industry. According to George Monbiot (1997):
In the U.S. a Monsanto vice-president is reportedly a top candidate to
become commissioner of the food and drug administration, which regulates
the food industry. Researchers and lawyers from Monsanto already occupy
important posts in the FDA. It has approved some of the companys most
controversial products, including the artificial sweetener aspartame and an
injectable growth hormone for cattle. Only the New York attorney generals
office has taken the company to task, forcing it to withdraw adverts claiming
that Roundup is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. But Monsanto
has been most successful when appealing to multilateral bodies. Last month,
the WTO confirmed its ruling that the European Union can no longer exclude
meat and milk from cattle treated with bovine growth hormone, despite the
protests of farmers, retailers and consumers.
With billions of dollars invested in their products, lobbying U.S. government
officials for favorable regulations was essential, but as Monsanto realized a little too
late, the European Union was different. Monsanto was already viewed in the EU as a
bully for refusing to segregate transgenic crops (Kingl996). By November of 1997
when Regulation 1813/97 took effect, the regulatory approach of the EU was not
going Monsantos way either. The purpose of Regulation 1813/97 was to ensure
Monsantos transgenic soybeans and Zea mays L were included in the labeling
requirements of the Novel Foods Regulation. The soybeans and com were not
included initially because they were approved in 1996 before the Novel Foods
Regulation was passed in 1997 (Biotechnology: Transgenic Food 1997). While the
policymaking process would continue to be slow, the governing institutions in the
EU were beginning to establish a more cautious approach to regulating genetically
modified food than was present in the U.S. system.
In November of 1997, the EU extended the labeling requirements in the
Novel Foods Regulation to include the transgenic soybeans and com previously
excluded, and in April of 1998 the EU began their de facto ban on new transgenic
crop approvals (Genetic Engineering: Europeans Worried 1999). These two EU
policy decisions demonstrated a certain amount of success for the Greenpeace
International campaign. The contribution of Greenpeace and other factors responsible
for shaping the direction of EU policy will be discussed further in the conclusions.
The movement against genetically modified food in the European Union
included several social movement organizations (Cookson 1998) but the focus of this
study has been to assess the contribution of Greenpeace Internationals 1996-97
campaign. In the following sections I will analyze how the Greenpeace campaign
took advantage of the political opportunity structure in the EU, how the image of
genetically modified food was shaped with framing processes and protest strategies,
and how effective I believe the Greenpeace campaign was in influencing the debate
over genetically modified food in the European Union.
Taking Advantage of the Political Opportunity Structure
Beginning in 1996 genetically modified soybeans and com were grown
commercially in the United States and exported to the European Union. There were
no special regulations for genetically modified food in the U.S., but the EU was
attempting to establish a more cautious regulatory approach. Directive 90/220 defines
the rules for importing transgenic crops and was adopted in 1990. The Novel Foods
Regulation includes procedures for marketing genetically modified foods and
labeling requirements, but was not passed until 1997. One of the factors complicating
the debate over genetically modified food resulted from this fact that the Commission
approved Monsantos transgenic soybeans and the transgenic com Zea mays L before
the Council and Parliament passed the Novel Foods Regulation. Soybeans and com
are pervasive in processed food, but were not covered within the Regulations
labeling requirements. In the following section I will demonstrate how the lack of
consensus among the EU governing institutions on how to-regulate genetically
modified food allowed Greenpeace International to take advantage of three specific
The first significant opportunity was the fact that government officials
handled the mad cow disease epidemic poorly, at first claiming beef from afflicted
cows was safe to eat. For many Europeans, this mistake greatly undermined the
credibility of whatever government officials might have to say about the safety of
eating genetically modified food. The Greenpeace campaign took advantage of the
publics skepticism by framing genetically modified food as a threat to food safety.
The second significant opportunity for the Greenpeace campaign was the
different regulatory approaches of the United States and the European Union. The
U.S. exported transgenic crops to the EU in accordance with the principle of
substantial equivalence, which did not differentiate transgenic crops from
conventional crops so no labels were required. The Novel Foods Regulation was
designed to do the opposite in the EU by providing labeling requirements for food
products containing genetically modified ingredients, but the Council and Parliament
could not agree on the strictness of the labeling requirements. The longer it took the
Council and Parliament to pass the Novel Foods Regulation, the more time there was
to debate the issue, which allowed the opposition movement to gain momentum. As
long as the policymaking process was slow, the Greenpeace campaign had time to get
their alarming messages out and advocate for a cautious approach.
The third significant opportunity for the Greenpeace campaign was the
existence of member state opposition. Austria, Denmark, and Sweden, the member
states responsible for holding up the passage of the Novel Foods Regulation initially,
never wavered in their opposition. Other member states occasionally voted with the
blocking minority, or simply abstained from voting in favor, but the Council was
often a battleground for national interests and countries with cautionary approaches
at home pushed for their implementation at the supranational level.
Member states were also opposed to the transgenic com Zea mays L. Austria,
followed by Luxembourg and Italy, invoked the Safeguard Clause just a few months
after the Commission finally approved Zea mays L in December of 1996
(Greenpeace Blocks 1997). So while the approval of Zea mays L may have appeared
to be a victory for the biotechnology corporations and U.S. trade officials, I would
argue that by December of 1996 the damage had been done. Zea mays L was
perceived as a threat to food safety in the EU. The Commission hesitated in
approving Zea mays L, and the Council and Parliament struggled with the strictness
of the Novel Foods Regulation. Both delays provided the Greenpeace campaign with
time to frame genetically modified food as a food safety issue, and execute a protest
strategy which could capture the publics attention and solidify support for a more
cautious approach to regulation.
Shaping the Image
The debate in the European Union was about the image of genetically
modified food (Bellos 1997). Monsanto promoted their Roundup Ready soybeans as
environmentally friendly because according to the company Roundup Ready
soybeans would increase crop yields while reducing herbicide use by farmers
(Durham 1996). Monsanto also claimed agricultural biotechnology was the only way
to feed the worlds growing population, but it was easy to see Monsanto was not
feeding the world with agricultural biotechnology. Monsanto was making commodity
crops resistant to Roundup so they could sell even more of the worlds biggest selling
herbicide (Tait 1998). Consumers knew they were not benefitting from herbicide-
resistant'crops, and Europeans were already distrustful of government officials when
it came to food safety so there was really no reason to think Europeans would trust
Monsanto with keeping the food supply safe. If anything, framing genetically
modified food as ai threat to food safety in the EU was easier because Monsanto was
involved. It was clear by the end of 1997 that Monsanto had lost the crucial
competition over the image of genetically modified food (Bellos 1997).
By 1998 Monsanto had launched a multi-million dollar Europe-wide
advertising campaign trying to improve their image as a corporation, and the image
of agricultural biotechnology. In a full page European newspaper ad Monsanto
claimed Food biotechnology is a matter of opinions. Monsanto believes you should
hear all of them (Whos Afraid 1998). The problem for Monsanto was that by 1998
Europeans had already made up their minds about genetically modified food.
Greenpeace had effectively framed the issue as an issue of food safety and the
popular perception about Monsanto was that Monsanto was trying to shove its
products down peoples throats (Vidal 1997). Attitudes towards Monsanto were
even more critical when coming from within the agricultural biotechnology industry.
Monsantos miscalculations about the acceptance of transgenic crops in Europe
resulted in not only a public relations nightmare for Monsanto, but the entire industry
I would also argue that the messages of the Greenpeace campaign kept the
pressure on food manufacturers and retailers to seek out non-modified sources of
soybeans and com. Unilever and Nestle had headquarters all over Europe and most
of them joined Monsanto and the U.S. grain traders in claiming it was impractical to
use only non-modified sources, but the Unilever and Nestle headquartered in
Germany were somehow able to do it (Vidal 1998), and so were several European
retailers. The image of genetically modified food as a threat to food safety, which
was an image primarily shaped by the Greenpeace campaign, was enough to
convince the majority of Europeans that a cautious approach to regulating genetically
modified food was in their best interest. It was just a matter of time before the
governing institutions were able to reflect the publics preference for caution in the
form of policy.
The De Facto Ban
By 1998 the governing institutions of the EU were under intense public
pressure to establish a more cautious approach to regulating imports of transgenic
crops, and the cultivation of them within the EU (Miller 2003). Environmental
organizations such as Friends of the Earth and English Nature campaigned in the UK
and called for a five year moratorium on importing and growing transgenic crops
(Waugh 1998). The EU was in a crisis over genetically modified food. According to
Eurobarometer polls most Europeans had a negative view of genetically modified
food (Europeans and Biotechnology 2002) which stalled any efforts to institute an
economic-based approach to fegulation similar to the United Stdtes. The Greenpeace
International campaign played a major role keeping the European public informed
( and opposed to genetically modified food. Public and member state opposition
eventually resulted in a de facto ban on new transgenic crop approvals.
' Instituting a social-based approach to regulation in the EU required a
temporarily halt on new transgenic crop imports. Approving Monsantos soybeans
and Zea mays L in 1996 before the Novel Foods Regulation had been passed in 1997
was a powerful example of what could go wrong when the regulatory structure was
not clearly defined prior to an economic push to get products to market. The de facto
ban on new transgenic crop approvals, which began in 1998, was intended to give the
governing institutions time to clearly define the EUs regulatory approach to
genetically modified food.
Beginning in 1998, Ministers in the Council effectively blocked the passage
of any new crop approvals. Five years later in 2003 the United States filed a
complaint with the World Trade Organization claiming the de facto ban was a barrier
to free trade. The U.S. claimed to be fighting for the interests of American
agriculture but Europeans were more concerned about protecting public health and
the environment than American agribusiness. The fundamental difference between
the regulatory'approaches of the United States and the European Union continued to
be at the center of the genetically modified food debate (Becker 2003).
The opposition movement in the European Union, of which I argue the
Greenpeace International campaign made a significant contribution, would extend to
other parts of the world in the years following the 1996-97 debate. The United States
was accused of bullying New Zealand into accepting transgenic crop imports (Woolf
1998) and the U.S. also accused the European Union of spreading their unfounded
fears about genetically modified food to the developing world (Becker 2003).
Movements against genetically modified food were forming in other countries as
well, including the United States.
Monsanto began developing a genetically modified wheat in 1997. Wheat is
the most widely cultivated crop in the world and is also the most valuable for a seed
seller because wheat is grown in Europe and America, where profit margins are
higher (Brown 2004). Unfortunately for Monsanto, after spending hundreds of
millions of dollars to bring the crop to market, Roundup Ready Spring Wheat did not
make it past the field tests. The opposition to the wheat came from American farmers
who knew how consumers in the EU felt about genetically modified food. Since
Europe imported a significant amount of wheat from the United States, farmers there
were concerned about the possibility of consumer boycotts in the EU (Brown 2004;
Since the opposition to their Roundup Ready spring wheat came from
farmers, Monsantos primary customers, Monsanto backed down and anti-GM
campaigners rejoiced. Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety in
Washington DC stated: This is a huge victory and signifies a turning point in the
battle against genetically engineered foods (Hold the Wheat 2004). Monsanto
wanted to dominate the worlds bread market, but once again misjudged the
possibility and power of consumer opposition. Had the movement against genetically
modified food not been effective in the EU, it is doubtful wheat farmers in the United
States would be concerned about the possibility of a European boycott (Fim 2004).
Monsanto had another problem in February of 2007 when a federal judge in
San Francisco ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to due a full
environmental impact statement before approving Monsantos Roundup Ready
Alfalfa for cultivation. Alfalfa seed companies, some farm advocacy groups, and
environmental organizations were plaintiffs in the case (Pollack 2007).
The judges ruling focused on the lack of research evaluating the
environmental risks. In his 20-page opinion Judge Charles R. Breyer of Federal
District Court in San Francisco specifically referenced the lack of research exploring
the possibility of herbicide resistance building up in targeted weeds, especially
considering Monsanto already had soybean and com crops resistant to their Roundup
herbicide. One would expect that some federal agency is considering whether there
is some risk to engineering all of Americas crops to include the gene that confers
resistance to glysophate (Pollack 2007). I would argue that the 1996-97 Greenpeace
campaign made a significant contribution to the movement against genetically
modified food primarily because government agencies in the EU were taking the
time to seriously consider the risks involved.
Suggestions for Further Research
By 1998, more environmental organizations were joining the opposition
movement and campaigning against genetically modified food. Friends of the Earth
UK, for example, launched a campaign that built on framing genetically modified
food as a food safety issue, but focused on targeting local retailers with their protests.
One suggestion for further research would be to use the political process theory to
analyze the Friends of the Earth campaign and compare the results with the
Greenpeace International campaign.
Another suggestion for further research would be to examine the movement
against genetically modified food in the United States and ask questions such as what
sort of framing processes might be effective in the U.S.? What protest strategies
might work? What about the risk of herbicide resistance building up in the
Americans heartland? Could the risk of herbicide resistance be incorporated into the
framing processes of a movement against transgenic crops in the United States?
Instead of food safety, would Americans be more susceptible to environmental
reasons for opposition? Instead of the thought of antibiotic resistance, would the
thought of superbugs and superweeds inspire Americans to favor a more cautious
regulatory approach to genetically modified food?
Another suggestion for further research involves a more in depth analysis of
the Greenpeace campaign using more specific aspects of the political process theory.
Cognitive liberation, for example, is a term political process theorists use to discuss
the significance of organization leaders who are able to not only identify political
opportunities, but are capable of effectively exploiting them. Interviews with
Greenpeace activists who participated in the 1996-97 campaign could be used to
develop a more in depth analysis of the political process theory.
The debate over genetically modified food in the European Union revealed
how informed framing processes and protest strategies can take advantage of a
political opportunity structure in one of the most powerful and wealthy regions in the
world. Continuing to evaluate movements through the lens of the political process
theory will not only contribute to the literature on political process theory, but
provide social movement organizations with better ideas on how to effectively frame
issues, and how to look for openings in political opportunity structures.
1996 Time Line of Events Involving Zea mays L and the Novel Foods Regulation
Novel Foods Commission Zea mays L is 14 of 15 Commission Council and Scientific Committees Report
Regulation Approves not Approved Ministers in assigns three Parliament to Commission Zea mays L not
moves to Monsanto's or Rejected. . Council Scientific begin conciliation a safety threat, Commission
Parliament Roundup moves to express doubts Committees talks about Novel finally approves Zea mays L for
for Second Reading Ready Soybeans Council about safety of Zea mays L to Review Zea mays L Foods Regulation import in December
January April May June July October November December
and Sweden oppose
weakness of Novel
Greenpeace International executes strategy of framing
transgenic crops from U.S. as a threat to food safety in EU
stage several protests
at Unilever and Nestle
headquarters in several
Greenpeace activists chain themselves to cargo ships in
several European ports displaying banners with
provocative messages about the dangers of genetically
1997 Participants Include Commission, Parliament, Member States in the Council, and Greenpeace
Council and Commission Parliament Novel Foods Commission Commission Commission Regulation 1813/97 takes effect requires
Parliament approves 4 new suspends all Regulation approves gm includes soybeans Orders Austria, Requires products containing gm soy
pass Novel varieties of sales of gm becomes Oilseed rape and com within Luxembourg, and com previously excluded from scope
Foods Regulation tmnsgenic coni maize effective within scope of Novel Foods and Italy to lift bans on Zea mays L of Novel Foods Regulation to be labeled
February April May
Austria, Italy, and
Friends of the Earth UK launches campaign
targeting local retailers while other environmental
organizations also become more active in the
movement against genetically modified food in EU
Austria vows Greenpeace activists occupy ships
to keep ban and carrying soybeans and com
De Facto Ban
As a result of the controversy over genetically modified food member states in the Council vow to block the approval of any new transgenic
crops until stricter regulations were in place. The de facto ban begins in 1998 and remains in effect until 2006.
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