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Anti-gmo Food Poster
10.04.02
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ANNOUNCER: You're watching NOW with Bill Moyers. With contributions from NPR news. This week on NOW...

As the fervor for war grows in Washington, his voice is raised in dissent. U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, a Texas Republican who opposes invading Iraq. A Bill Moyers interview.

ANNOUNCER: And the brave new world of genetically modified food. What don't we know about what we're eating everyday?

FARMER: Everything is different. The way we farm is different.

ANNOUNCER: What are the tradeoffs, what are the risks? Scientists don't really know.

And where does inspiration come from? Writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie goes looking for it in the midnight hours.

SHERMAN ALEXIE: In those insomniac nights, I would trade a few hours of rest for the chance to write the greatest poem in the history of the English language.

ANNOUNCER: A voice of the new century, on the high price of creativity.

All this, and Bill Moyers' Journal, tonight on NOW.




MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.

The "animal spirits" are on the loose. That's how one investment adviser explained the worldwide frenzy over the threat of war with Iraq which has sent stocks falling through the floor recently. On Wall Street, there's talk America's economy could remain stagnant for years.

But the strange thing is that in Washington no one seems especially bothered by bad economic news. The talk in Washington is all "War, War, War."

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY (FROM TAPE): We realize that wars are never one on the defensive. We must take that battle to the enemy. We must make sure our country is secure and we will prevail.

RICHARD PERLE, CHAIRMAN, DEFENSE ADVISORY BOARD: The message is very clear: we have no time to lose, Saddam must be removed from office.

PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): We are moving toward a strong resolution. And all of us, and many others in Congress, are united in our determination to confront an urgent threat to America.

MOYERS: But before he can take out Saddam Hussein, the President wants a regime change in the United States Congress.

PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people.

MOYERS: Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle took the President's attack as slanderous.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DASCHLE: You tell those who fought in Vietnam and World War II they're not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous. Outrageous.

MOYERS: But the what the President said was was nothing compared to the campaign launched against Democrats across the country by the Republican Party, questioning their opponents' loyalty and try to make the campaign all about patriotism.

COMMERCIAL: Do you believe this is free speech? ...burning the American flag.

The flag our soldiers carry into battle.
The flag our children pledge allegiance to.
The flag our nation salutes.

Do you believe burning the American flag is free speech?

COMMERCIAL: Six years ago, Tom Strickland wanted to slash the military budget, said no to deploying missile defense.

But now he's changed his tune, again.

Says he's for the military.

Who's he kidding?

MOYERS: The martial spirit has engulfed the mass media, too. On the networks, viewers are being treated to a preview of the killing machines that could be used in Iraq.

SOLDIER (FROM TAPE): In this aircraft, it's got enough computers and enough... Enough brains, that I guess that you can really focus on completing your mission.

MOYERS: But as the talk of war grows, the voices of dissent are growing, too. 150,000 people turned out in London last weekend to protest the impending war.

And in Washington these demonstrators marched on Vice President Cheney's official residence.

Official Washington wasn't listening.

Most everyone is falling into line, but there are a few lonely voices of dissent like Ron Paul, and he's not even a Democrat.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX): Mr. Speaker, I rise to urge the Congress to think twice before thrusting this nation into a war without merit. One fraught with the danger of escalating into something no American will be pleased with.

MOYERS: With us now from the House of Representatives is Ron Paul, Republican from Texas. Thank you sire for joining us.

Have you heard anything this week that would give you second thoughts about opposing a war in Iraq?

CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL: No, and I keep listening carefully and read everything I can get. And I see no new information, there's really nothing new, not only in two months. It's interesting, we have been seriously taking about this for one month.

But I don't think there's anything new in the last two months or two years, and for that matter, maybe even 12 years. When Secretary Powell was before our committee, he was very clear to us that Saddam Hussein's military is very, very weak and much weaker than it was when he was defeated 12 years ago.

And that sort of goes by everybody, and they keep talking about presumptions.

Maybe someday he's going to get something, and maybe someday he's going to do this, and he might build a weapon, and he is trying to get these things.

MOYERS: Have you seen or heard anything from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House to suggest that Saddam Hussein is planning an attack on the United States?

RON PAUL: No, I see nothing imminent. He doesn't have an air force, he doesn't have a navy. He can't even shoot down, he didn't even shoot down one of our airplanes in twelve years. And his army is one-third of what it was twelve years ago. So it's pretty vague accusations. So, you know, this fiction that he's Hitler and he's about to take over the Middle East is... I think it's a stretch.

MOYERS: Let's take for a moment the administration at its word and admit that it... That President Bush and others really believe there's a potential threat if he gets serious weapons of mass destruction.

What should we do about that if we really thought he was getting weapons of mass destruction?

RON PAUL: Well, I think that President Kennedy gave us a pretty good idea of what we should do. He had to deal with some tough times.

As a matter of fact, the various presidents had to deal with the Soviets. They had 50,000 nuclear warheads, and they had tremendous power, and they brought them 90 miles off our shore. And not once did we think that confrontation was a good idea.

Matter of fact, we always stood strong, had a strong national defense. We worked on containment, and we even negotiated.

So I would say if we were able to accomplish that with the Soviets and we've been able to live with the Chinese and put up with so much danger in the world, we ought to be able to handle this guy that has... There's no evidence that he has these weapons, and that there's no imminent threat, and he hasn't committed an act of aggression. I would think that if we really wanted to we could handle him the same way we handled the Soviets.

MOYERS: So...

RON PAUL: And we won The Cold War.

MOYERS: Why are so many members of Congress lining up to want to go to war?

RON PAUL: On our side, a lot of Republicans will come to me and they'll tell me that, you know, their mail is running strongly against the war, but you know, "I just can't go against my president." And I'm uncomfortable about that.

I mean, I know President Bush, and he's from our state, and you know a lot about politics and you know how that works.

And I don't like that, but I still have an obligation to my own beliefs, my own convictions, my promises into the constitution. So I have to do my best job in defending that position.

But there is a temptation to want to go along and feel good about being part of the party and not resist. And I think it's interesting on the other side...

MOYERS: The Democratic...

RON PAUL: Democrats are... Yes, they're split.

Now, the best allies I have now for trying to avoid a war comes from a little more liberal Democrats, which is sort of ironic maybe in a conservative Republican. So there's more allies from there.

But leadership on the Republican side... And that's mixed.

I think there's a lot of influence behind the scenes for this war dealing with oil interests, and this would influence both sides of the aisle, and as much as people don't like to admit it, I really think that Israel and our support for Israel has an influence in our overall policy.

MOYERS: Do you think... Excuse me, do you think Israel wants us to take out Saddam Hussein so that Israel doesn't have to do it itself? Because Israel is threatened...

RON PAUL: You know, that's an interesting question. I think they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and I can't blame them.

When Israel went in and took out that nuclear reactor in the early 1980s, actually I was one of the very few Republicans that supported it. It's in their interest to deal with it.

No, I think... I don't think it's so much that Israel wants us to do their work for them; it's that we don't allow them to do their work for themselves, because even Persian Gulf War may well have been better fought by Israel and moderate Arabs, and they could have taken care of Saddam Hussein a lot better than we did, because that war is still going on.

MOYERS: What are you hearing from your district? Your conservative district has sent you back to Congress year after year.

Are your constituents prepared to go to war? Do they want to go to war? I would say that I had well over a thousand positive letters of support, and probably six or eight negative.

So I would say they strongly support my position...

MOYERS: You've been...

RON PAUL: ...Do whatever you can to avoid the war.

MOYERS: You've been consistent in your conservative positions. You oppose abortion, you like low taxes, you want us back on the gold standard. What is your philosophical basis for opposing a war with Iraq?

RON PAUL: Well, you know, the long historic definition of the... It's actually a Christian definition of the "Just War" influences me. It has to be defensive, it has to be declared by the proper authorities, and you have to be willing to win the war.

Prompts me to look at what the founders said, and they want us to declare the war, the responsibility is on the House and the Senate to make the declaration, and that we should win it.

Now, I get motivated by this because I'm old enough to remember World War II and all the other wars, and war is not good.

And I know that since World War II we haven't won any wars. So the way we get into war is every bit as important as deciding whether or not to go to war, and it seems like when we slip into war through the back door, we're less likely to win.

And the consequences seem to get out of control, and the complications last a lot longer... Just like Persian Gulf War did, we didn't finish it. We had a humiliating defeat in Vietnam. Korea, we still occupy Korea for 50 years.

Besides, I think it's human nature to really prefer peace over war, and I think people will go to war when they know it's necessary.

But I think if it's not necessary, they're very tempted to vote for somebody who advocates peace and a little bit more reasoning than to jump and leap into a war that may lead to some very serious consequences.

MOYERS: I was in the Johnson White House when we pushed through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that Johnson used as a means of going to war without officially declaring war. Are we seeing something like that here?

RON PAUL: I think it's very similar because I see this as not assuming responsibility by the Congress, but that Congress transferring this authority to wage the war and giving it to the president.

So it doesn't tell the president to go to war, but it's certainly granting him this authority to use force, to go to war when and if he feels like it. So I would say it's very similar and it may well have consequences similar to, maybe not quite so bad, but could be even worse.

MOYERS: Congressman, what do you think of the President's new policy of preemptive first strike?

RON PAUL: I think that is serious. In the committee today as we were marking up the bill, those pushing the resolution worked real hard to say this has nothing to do with preemptive strikes.

And I made a statement, I think I said, "This is what it's all about, is to establish and institutionalize the preemptive strikes, although we have done that off and on in minor degrees over the years. This one is much more open and much more declared and a much bigger issue." And that's what this is all about, a preemptive strike.

I think that is so dangerous not only to us as a people and to our rule of law and our constitution, but I believe that it will come back to haunt us because it... It has already started, because the Russians now say, "Aha! Ah, what you're doing is nothing compared to what we want to do. We want to go into Georgia, and because you say there's terrorists, and the Iraqis are possible terrorists, that that's why we want to go into Georgia and we want you to approve it." And that's why they're looking to maybe give in a little bit to us if we ignore what they do in Georgia.

But what if... What if China declares that, you know, that they've just been attacked by some terrorists from Taiwan? They may move on Taiwan in the midst of a crisis in Iraq.

And look at the confusion and the chaos and the hatred that exists between India and Pakistan. They both have nuclear weapons.

Now if the preemptive strike becomes institutionalized not only for us but for the world, that means that the next time the Pakistanis might commit an act of terror against the Indians or vice-versa, the Indians might just say, "You know, this is the reason we have to go ahead. And besides, the great moral leaders of the world, the people who set the standards is America, and this is what they do." And they will take our quotes and use it.

And I think redoing this policy has changed things a lot and that's probably the thing we should fear the most.

MOYERS: Congressman, on September 10, three weeks ago, you read to the House of Representatives 35 questions you said should be answered by the administration before action was taken on this resolution for a war against Iraq. Have any of those questions been answered?

RON PAUL: No. I guess in bits and pieces, and I qualify that by saying I wouldn't guess to ask them, you know, I probably... In these couple days of opening debate and plus my amendment, I probably had twelve to fifteen minutes total.

And those questions wouldn't have been answered because they're more complicated. And I would not... Once again, you know, I indicated that they can best treat me by trying to ignore me. So I wouldn't expect the administration or the State Department to send me the answers.

MOYERS: So this debate in your judgment has been designed to reach a preconceived conclusion.

RON PAUL: Well, the most important characteristic was don't mess with the language. Don't have a real debate but sort of rubber stamp it.

Give its people a chance to get stuff off their chest so they feel they've been debating it, but don't really expect to change anything or have any input because it's so important to keep the coalition together, Republicans and Democrats, both in the House and the Senate and the president, because they have made their decision on what to do, and they cannot afford to take any extra time and tinker with the language.

MOYERS: I know you have to get back to your work there Congressman, Ron Paul. Thank you very much for this time.

RON PAUL: Thank you very much. Nice to be with you.




MOYERS:To the naked eye, this is just a small seed of corn. At least it looks like a small seed of corn, but some people think it's a ticking time bomb.

Critics call it "Franken-food," as in Frankenstein the monster, born of good intentions and bungled science.

We're talking about food, in this case, corn that has been genetically altered, changed by human manipulation in ways nature never intended. Supporters say the goal is to improve the food supply. And when products made from this corn hit the shelves of America's supermarkets just six years ago, there wasn't much protest.

But elsewhere in the world, including at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, critics talk about genetically-altered food as if multinational corporations are making guinea pigs of us.

To see what the controversy is all about, correspondent Mark Schapiro and NOW'S Gail Ablow went to America's heartland by way of Mexico.

REPORTER MARK SCHAPIRO: These quiet fields in southern Mexico are an unlikely flashpoint in a worldwide battle over the future of agriculture.

A conflict that pits developing countries against industrialized ones...traditional farming against corporate agriculture... the surprises of nature against the precision of science.

Human cultivation of corn began right here, centuries before the conquistadors arrived.

NAUN SANCHEZ, FARMER: Our ancestors left us the seed. Our land is used to it. If we plant another kind of corn it won't grow. Our land is used to our ancestor's seed.

SCHAPIRO: Corn here is about survival.

MAURICIO BELLON, PHD, SENIOR SCIENTIST, INTERNATIONAL MAIZE AND WHEAT IMPROVEMENT CENTER (CIMMYT): You have to realize that here you don't have job insurance or health insurance but having corn is what ensures that you - your-life will keep on once you have corn you basically made it for the year.

SCHAPIRO: If it's a local insurance policy, it is also a global treasure, prized by scientists for the differences in the genetic makeup of these kernels - they call it diversity.

Here in the state of Oaxaca alone there are more than sixty varieties of corn. Which is good. Because nature is fickle - one year it's too hot, another it's too wet. Unwelcome pests shows up. If all your corn is the same, and equally vulnerable to any one problem — your crop is doomed. If it's all a little different, some will survive.

And when disasters strike — scientists can come to this gene pool to breed back resilience. It's so critical, they save corn seed from Oaxaca in gene banks around the world.

MAURICIO BELLON: The diversity of these genes is the basis of our food supply. We need this diversity to cope with the future, with evolution, with unpredictable things.

SCHAPIRO: A crop this varied evolved over thousands of years as, season to season, individual farmers selected the seeds best suited to local conditions.

Now American corporations are going in the opposite direction. Their goal is not diversity it is tailoring seeds with very specific traits to suit the needs of modern industrial agriculture.

These traits would never have evolved in nature. They occur when scientists take genetic information from one living thing and put it into the genes of another. The resulting plants are called "transgenic."

The Mexican government banned planting transgenic corn amid concerns that it would threaten the diversity of their native corn. And growing distrust of genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — has pushed thirty other countries to impose restrictions on these crops.

People are protesting from Europe to India to Brazil, fearful of unknown risks to human and environmental health.

TAPE OF PROTEST: This is contamination of our food...

SCHAPIRO: They don't want what American farmers produce, what American consumers are eating.

That's right we're eating transgenic ingredients. Those genes — altered through biotechnology — are in 70 percent of the processed foods on our grocery shelves. In cooking oils, soda, soy products, breakfast cereals, cookies. Transgenes are in the most widely used sweetener in America — corn syrup.

There's no scientific evidence that eating these ingredients hurts our health. But around the world critics and scientists are raising questions: are transgenic crops safe for the environment over time? Will they harm the diversity of our food supply? We don't know yet.

To try to answer that question I traveled to the American Midwest. If Oaxaca, Mexico is the cradle of corn cultivation, this secret and isolated field in Iowa is the frontier of corn modification.

Dr. Kan Wang isn't growing corn for food. She wants corn to make medicine.

DR. KAN WANG, PHD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AGRONOMY IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY: I do not understand why so much heat on the issue of biotechnology crop. I think this is a great technology, but I do agree, there's many aspect we don't understand yet.

SCHAPIRO: Dr. Wang and her students from Iowa State University made me promise not to reveal the location of this place. They fear protesters will destroy their work.

What are they hiding? You could call it "corn sex." Actually, in a way, "safe sex" for corn.

Corn is usually pollinated by the wind, randomly. But Dr. Wang and her students are controlling pollination very carefully. They take the pollen from the male tassels... Then sprinkle it on the female silks. Pollen slips down each strand of corn silk passing along its genes to the next generation of seed.

They don't want the pollen to travel outside this field, because it contains experimental genes that could mix with ordinary corn. What kind of genes? Dr. Wang has actually inserted genetic information from a pig virus into this corn.

She wants to create a vaccine for pigs. If things go according to plan, when the pig eats this corn, the corn will immunize the pig against the virus. It's a whole new way of using plants for human needs.

DR. WANG: Now, not only we can make medicine out of a plant, we can make plant to make medicine. So that part is really quite exciting and the potential using biotechnology is huge in this regard.

SCHAPIRO: Scientists can now take these corn embryos and insert genetic instructions from any organism — from a virus, even an animal — into corn; to make that corn do something new.

Dr. Mike Lee is a professor at Iowa State University. He is also working with transgenic corn; not turning corn into medicine, but into a more nutritious food for hogs. He takes genetic information from hogs mothers' milk and puts it into corn plants.

DR. MIKE LEE, PHD, PROFESSOR, PLANT BREEDING AND GENETICS, IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY: The corn plants contain a new DNA sequence that would be producing this protein that would make that corn grain a more complete food for hogs.

SCHAPIRO: To do this, scientists copy the gene that makes hogs mothers' milk, then modify it to make it work in a plant.

DR. MIKE LEE: They'll start to form roots and shoots and a new plant emerges, hopefully a plant that carries those genes now in their chromosomes

SCHAPIRO: These genes are a totally new development in the history of life on earth.

DR. MIKE LEE: Now do we have a hog gene in there or do we have a version of a hog gene or do we have a corn gene? When does it stop becoming a hog gene? That's a tough question.

SCHAPIRO: Dr. Kan Wang knows there are risks. A new gene makes new proteins. And new proteins in food or vaccines could provoke unforeseen reactions like severe allergic attacks.

Dr. Wang will test her corn vaccine for side effects. If the vaccine is safe for pigs. The same techniques could lead to better vaccines for people.

DR. KAN WANG: I think that the potential for plant production system for vaccine product is huge. Vaccines for HIV, for Hepatitis B, for maybe Alzheimer's in the future.

SCHAPIRO: This is the dream, designer crops: crops making medicine, crops with more nutrition, crops that thrive in any climate.

But agricultural biotechnology is not only being driven by idealism. It is also being driven by a multi billion dollar industry in search of blockbuster products.

To that end, six corporations now own 75% of the patents for the bioengineered seeds of some of America's most important crops. Not only corn - but cotton, canola, and soy. Seeds that they can sell to farmers like Frank McLain.

FRANK MCLAIN, FARMER: Everything's different. The way we farm is different... The perfect crop would be to control the pests, be weed-free, and yield great so that we can pay our bills. I think that's what farmers want. We want to be able to pay our bills.

SCHAPIRO: In the past growing the perfect crop required heavy doses of chemicals and lots of human labor. Biotechnology promised a different approach, just plant a new kind of seed. A transgenic seed.

The most widely used and profitable transgenic crop so far is a special kind of soy bean seed. This seed has been given a gene, designed by Monsanto, to resist a weedkiller.

FRANK MCLAIN: When I was a kid, you'd see grass or other weeds poking up in these fields and we'd have to go through and chop them out with hoes or shovels or whatever and try to clean it up manually or mechanically as best we could. And now it's pretty easy to come in here with sprayer and accomplish the same thing.

SCHAPIRO: That's a bonus for McLain - he can now spray herbicide right on his crops without hurting them. There is perhaps a bigger bonus for Monsanto, because the herbicide the crops resist is made by none other than — Monsanto.

They call the herbicide Roundup®, and they call the seed Roundup Ready®. It's growing in fully three-quarters of the soybean fields in America.

FRANK MCLAIN: Farmers are always looking for an herbicide or an herbicide system that fits their operation the best and the Roundup Ready® system has a pretty good fit for farmers.

SCHAPIRO: It's biotech synergy. Monsanto sells its chemicals and its chemical-resistant seed in a package deal.

The problem, critics say, is that the science is being driven by the agriculture industry, that their priority is rushing products to market, not worrying about the possible long-term consequences.

DR. CHARLES BENBROOK, PHD, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST, BENBROOK CONSULTING SERVICES: If you ask, well, why are these technologies the ones that are in the market? The reason that they're there is because it's what biotechnologists were able to do at the time, and the companies that had invested so heavily in the technology and in buying up the seed industry they had to have product on the market.

SCHAPIRO: Agricultural economist, Charles Benbrook says that pests are already adapting to some of these transgenic crops. And some plants are showing subtle changes in structure. Ominous signals of a weakening system.

DR. CHARLES BENBROOK: The trends for really 30 years have been towards bigger farms, more specialized farms and similar production systems. All three of those trends go against the grain of diversity. That's really one of the fundamental lessons that's come from applying science to agriculture: diversity in tillage systems, diversity in weed management systems, diversity in the genetics of your crop that you're planting. All of those things hedge the farmers bet against serious losses to pests.

SCHAPIRO: This is exactly why critics worry that three quarters of the soybean fields in America grow those Roundup Ready® seeds.

DR. MIKE LEE: All of the pests that like soybeans have a great opportunity before them if they could adapt to that variety of soybeans. You know then they're going to rapidly spread and reproduce and maybe adversely effect the soybean crop.

SCHAPIRO: Others worry that once this new biotechnology is introduced, there's no turning back.

Take the case of Bt - Bacillus Thuringiensis - a big name for a tiny bacteria. A gene from Bt, put into corn, is toxic to a pest called the corn borer. Every cell in this new kind of corn, called Bt corn, makes its own insecticide to kill the corn borer.

Farmers in Iowa planted thirty percent of their fields with the bug-killing corn this year. But not Laura Krouse. She runs a small organic farm and grows her own variety of seed the old-fashioned way.

LAURA KROUSE, FARMER: Are we ok on broccoli? Is that going to work out? ...I like this corn. This is a great variety. It's been on this farm for 99 years. It's an important business for this farm. It's how I make a good portion of my farm income. And if I stop growing it - it will probably go extinct.

SCHAPIRO: Like the corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, her corn is openly pollinated. The grains of pollen travel on the wind.

LAURA KROUSE: There's 300 kernels on an ear, there could be 300 Dads involved in producing all the kernels of corn on that ear. And open pollinated means that they could have come from anywhere.

SCHAPIRO: Sure enough, pollen did blow into Laura Krouse's fields. It carried the Bt gene and she says it contaminated her organic seed.

Because of the presence of the Bt gene, Laura Krouse could no longer certify her corn as organic. She lost half her business.

LAURA KROUSE: There's no way for me to go into that field and look for the plants that contain the Bt gene and deselect them, kill them, don't include them in next year's seed. It will always be there.

I don't know if there's room for a business like mine anymore. Biologically it doesn't seem like it's going to be possible because of this sea of genetically engineered pollen that I live in, over which I have no control.

SCHAPIRO: In the end, neither individual farmers, nor entire nations may be able to control transgenic seeds once they leave the laboratory.

Remember Oaxaca, Mexico? The cradle of corn diversity? Surprisingly, traces of transgenic corn have shown up in the remote mountain village of Calpulalpan. The community found out when farmers, like Olga Moldonado, brought samples of their corn to be tested in a local lab.

OLGA MOLDONADO, FARMER: When I found out that my corn was contaminated I asked for an explanation. And I thought of my children, and I felt remorse and fear it would hurt the health of my children.

DR. IGNACIO CHAPELA, PHD, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, ECOSYSTEM SCIENCES, UC BERKELEY: I'm not going to die from that, you're not going to die from that. But we are thinking of intergenerational responsibility. How can we assure that our grandchildren will have a stable and reliable food source? I think we're playing with that.

SCHAPIRO: Dr. Ignacio Chapela is a professor of microbial ecology at the University of California at Berkeley. He and his graduate student, David Quist, helped discover the transgenes in Oaxaca's corn and were the first to focus the world's attention on them.

DR. IGNACIO CHAPELA: If nothing else, this discovery really showed that transgenic organisms are really out of control. Especially something like corn that produces pollen that gets distributed very widely.

SCHAPIRO: Chapela and Quist published their findings in the journal NATURE and ignited a controversy, among scientists, about exactly how transgenes behave.

But no one disputes their assertion that transgenic corn found its way to Mexico. That was confirmed in August by a Mexican government study. Mexico bans the planting and growing of genetically altered corn. So how did it get there?

Thanks to North American Free Trade rules, Mexico allows more than five million tons of American corn a year to be sold for human and animal consumption. And much of American corn contains transgenes.

So all that had to happen, and all that did happen, is that farmers like Olga Moldonado planted corn that they bought from the store - not knowing that there might be transgenes in the mix.

OLGA MOLDONADO: I planted this corn out of curiosity. I bought it at the government store and planted it to see if it was better than ours.

SCHAPIRO: Will it harm the environment? Will it compromise the diversity of this treasured corn? We have no choice but to wait and see. The genie is out of the bottle.

DR. MAURICIO BELLON: And, so now you might have transgenic diversity - but is that good or bad? We cannot just say that they are good, they are marvelous or they are bad. It depends very much how they're used how they're controlled and there are still many uncertainties.

DR. MICHAEL PHILLIPS, PHD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION (BIO): If you're the government of Mexico, hopefully you've learned a lesson here and that is that it's very difficult to keep a new technology from, you know, entering your borders particularly in a biological system

SCHAPIRO: Dr. Michael Phillips directs the Food and Agriculture division of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. He says countries like Mexico should simply accept the inevitable.

DR. MICHAEL PHILLIPS: We're approving them here in the United States, to the South of Mexico, we've got Brazil, we've got Argentina, that's adopting these technologies and so it really is incumbent upon the Mexican government to step up the process and get your regulatory system in place so that you can begin accepting these new products and give your farmers the opportunity to choose.

SCHAPIRO: Frank McLain did choose. These new seeds help him manage more land with less manpower.

Laura Krouse didn't have a choice. And there's a lot she would still like to know about what might blow in, in the future.

LAURA KROUSE: I'm very interested in finding out where the biopharmaceutical corns are being grown in Iowa. The corns that have been genetically engineered to produce, for lack of a better word, medical products. If it happens to be across the road here, I guess I'd like to know that.

SCHAPIRO: There is undeniable promise in some of these plants.

But when plants, especially food crops, are doing double-duty as pesticides, or pharmaceuticals, even genetic engineers who believe in the promise of transgenic crops think the unknowns unleashed by this technology call for research, caution, and oversight.

DR. MIKE LEE: Once its out in nature and in commerce you're not going to be able to get it back. And so that's different than cars and other products. You can have a recall. You can't have a recall with transgenic plants.

MOYERS: And here's something else to consider: right now, all this falls into a kind of regulatory limbo. The EPA, the Department of Agriculture, and the FDA. All have jurisdiction over different bits and pieces.

But patchwork rules make it easy for problems to slip through the cracks. If you would like to learn more about genetically-modified foods, please visit our web site at pbs.org. There's even a high school lesson plan there. And correspondent Mark Schapiro will continue his reporting on these issues in next week's edition of THE NATION. Look for it.



MOYERS: Where do ideas come from? We'll be asking that question often over the coming months, as we listen to the voices of this new century. We begin with Sherman Alexie. This Native American writer grew up on the Spokane Reservation in Washington state. In addition to his novels, short stories, and poems, he's also turned his work into acclaimed movies, including SMOKE SIGNALS, and his latest, the business of fancy dancing, which he also directed.

Such prolific inspiration doesn't come easily. To the contrary, Sherman Alexie has to go looking for it...out in the streets...and deep into his memories. In fact, it keeps him awake at night.

SHERMAN ALEXIE: Michael Chabon calls it the midnight disease, the thing that keeps us unhappy writers, unhappily walking the floors, looking for that next word. Randall Jarrell, the poet, said he liked to work in the middle of the night because there was less people awake competing for the ideas. And Linda Davis once wrote that insomnia is the wish for immortality granted by an ass. My name is Sherman J. Alexie Jr, and I am an insomniac.

Every time I leave the house on one of these insomniac journeys and try to get into that place where I create and think I'm hoping that I write something great.

Even before we had kids, I would sit in the bedroom we used as an office, and my wife Diane could hear me writing and talking and pacing the floor all night long.

My father was sleepless most of his life. So by the age of five, I was awake with him all night long, watching bad television or we'd lie in the same bed, and I'd read my comic books while he read his latest spy or mystery novel.

But my dad, that alcoholic nomad, he used to leave our family for weeks or days drinking and roaming. And I'd lie awake at night waiting for him to come home, and five or six times I cried myself sick into the hospital. And I'd lie awake in the kids' ward, ignoring the night shift nurses who came in and said, "Please, try and get a little sleep." So maybe I learned how to be an insomniac because I'm still waiting for my father to come home.

In the middle of the night, when you're ambiguously ethnic, like me, when you're brown, beige, mauve, siena, one of those lighter browns in the Crayola box. You have to be careful of the cops and robbers, because nobody's quite sure what you are, but everybody has assumptions.

Last September 16th, I was walking in downtown Seattle when this pick-up truck pulls up in front of me. Guy leans out the window and yells, "Go back to your own country," and I was laughing so hard because it wasn't so much a hate crime as a crime of irony.

And so I'm walking the floors of my office and I'm trying to write a poem or a story or a novel or a screenplay. Or... or I'm out in my car driving the streets of Seattle, and I'm searching, searching, searching and looking and trying to write. I've got a pen in my head and a pen in my... in my hand and... and... Or I'm in these 24 hour restaurants and diners or... or these all night supermarkets walking the aisles. And... and I'm trying.

Welcome to Madison Market, the beautiful, wondrous, abundant, glorious, politically progressive, expensive and elitist place. But not a whole lot of brown people wander the aisles here. But I, a brown boy, do wander the aisles. I mean, let's not tell lies. You want the good life? You live where white people live, you go to school where white people go to school, and you shop where white people shop.

You've got soy milk. You got lactose-free ice cream. You got Rice Dream. You got beauty products never tested on any animals, so I guess the animals are still homely.

You got juices from fruits and vegetables I've never heard of. You got your beeswax products scattered here and there. 70% of bees voted for Nader in the last election, but I think the wasps, they went for Buchanan. No wheat was harmed in the making of this bread. And Paul Newman is everywhere.

But it's good too, being awake, meeting the other insomniacs, the other artists, the other night-time people, and sometimes its just poor and middle class folks who are working the graveyard shift so they can make a little money, maybe one and a half or two times the minimum wage.

WAITRESS: "Hey man, what's up?"

ALEXIE: "One."

WAITRESS: "One."

Alexie: "One." Waitress: "Come on!"

ALEXIE:"Thanks."

WAITRESS:"You want some coffee?"

ALEXIE: "Yes. Forever and ever."

I'm addicted to coffee, and being a coffee addict and living in Seattle - "fancy pour" - is like being an alcoholic and having a studio apartment in the middle of a brewery.

And here in Seattle, you go into a coffee shop, and you get people who are ordering their double caffeinated cappuccino organic soy wheat free-range coffee bean grown in one-acre, you know, freedom-fighting plots in Colombia. But I like my coffee straight and black. I like it simple.

This time of the morning, it's me and all the cats of Seattle wandering around, and I'm a dog person.

On Friday nights when I can't sleep, there's a place I can go unlike any others in Seattle. Twice Sold Tale is open 24 hours on Fridays. And in that, I find such great comfort and joy. I mean there's something amazing about a place where I can find Chester Himes at four in the morning, or... or Graham Greene at 4:30. That instead of some... some carbohydrate grand slam feast that kills your heart, I can find something that feeds your heart. Toni Morrison. Imagine that, Toni Morrison at sunrise. Can you imagine anything better than that? I mean I could be patriotic in a place like this. I can love this country more in a place like this than in any other place. We have too much. But not here. There is no such thing as too many books.

So it gets to be five, five-thirty, six AM, and you want to eat. And you want to eat the worst things for you.

Could I get a hamburger, french fry, and a large Diet Coke?

Maybe ten years ago I would have gotten drunk, but it was easier to give up drinking than to stop eating french fries. Let me tell you, I'm falling off the french fry wagon all the time.

The worst thing about insomnia is, like a moth, you're attracted to bright light.

On these insomniac nights, sometimes everything you do is ordinary. I worry, as I wander in the middle of the night, how good a father I can be, how good a husband, if I'm exhausted all day after having spent the entire night awake. Because of my passion for writing, and my father's passion for drinking, both of our sons miss us all the time.

The thing tonight I... I saw was... was... was Carrie, the... the waitress and she had a tree tattoo on the back of her neck, and you know, I was asking her about it and... and... and she wouldn't tell me. She said it was a secret, which I understand of course, but it really made me curious about her. And so, if I was going to write poems about the people I meet during the night, and I often do, you start thinking about that tattoo. "Hey man, what's up?" And... and... and I asked her how far it went down, real... you know, realizing right after I asked the question how invasive it was. And she said, "Not very far." And I think that's how I would start the story in fact.

But you still feel alone; you still want to sleep. And when it's at its worst, this sleeplessness, I would trade a few hours of rest for the chance to write the greatest poem in the history of the English language.

So, you sit here, looking at that one last cup of coffee. You're thinking about being a father and a son. And wanting to live a lot longer than 51 which is the average life expectancy for the Native American male. I want to live to be 102.

I'm awake because I'm a father, I'm awake because I'm a son, I'm awake because I'm a husband and a lover. I'm awake because I'm a Spokane Indian. I'm awake because I'm an alcoholic. I'm awake because I'm sober now. I'm awake because of all of that. Why can't I sleep? It's because I don't want to sleep.



MOYERS: Next week on NOW, Congress may say "Yes" to war in Iraq; these citizens intend to keep saying "No." They believe there's a better way.

PROTESTOR: We are in complete opposition to a U.S. Military invasion of Iraq.

MOYERS: Americans speak up from their towns to capital corridors.

Next week on NOW.

Coming up on NPR radio.

LIANE HANSEN: Hi, I'm Liane Hansen. Join me the radio for WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news.

This Sunday morning, the big cases facing the Supreme Court. Its new term begins Monday.

And new acoustic soul from India Arie.




BILL MOYERS: All the talk of war, war, war is drowning out discussion of other things these days. But in fact, there are deeds afoot. While almost no one is paying attention, business lobbyists are trying to weaken pension reforms intended to protect workers. Reform that was supposed to be part of the government crackdown on corporate abuses following Enron and company. But Congress has gone A.W.O.L. even as it votes for war.

Furthermore, the deficit is soaring, and the budget process is in the worst mess since the government shutdown of 1995. Required spending bills haven't passed, Congress is in chaos.

But two of the administration's pet projects are going forward. Federal agencies are writing rules to implement, for example, those Faith-Based Charity Initiatives that Congress turned down. And out-of-sight and out-of-mind, big energy producers are getting the deluxe treatment.

Drilling for oil in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge weakening auto emission standards billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies. Just a few of the giveaways under consideration as part of the Bush Energy Bill now being hammered out by members of a House and Senate Conference Committee on Capitol Hill.

But wait. There's also something important you probably haven't heard about — the repeal of a law that has regulated electric utilities since 1935 — the Public Utility Holding Company Act, or PUCHA.

Industry wants the law repealed. They say it hampers new investment and competitive pricing.

DAVID OWENS, VICE PRESIDENT, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE: It's an outdated statute. It's retarding many things that the agencies are seeking to do to open up markets and protect consumers and to encourage investment.

BILL MOYERS: Consumer advocate Mark Cooper disagrees. The law is important, he says, because it prevents utilities from investing in risky business.

MARK COOPER, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA: The industry needs to be focused on one thing, delivering electrons. You look back at Ken Lay, he didn't care about delivering electrons. He only cared about buying and selling electrons. But the American people need the electrons to be consumed.

BILL MOYERS: It's an audacious stroke — giving industry what it wants while the country is still sorting out the mess from energy scandals — which consumer advocates say prove the need for public oversight more than ever.

Take Enron. This Wednesday, one of the company's top enchiladas - Andrew Fastow - was charged in a criminal complaint with defrauding the company and its shareholders for millions of dollars. He denies the charge.

But it's not just individuals. In August, the federal energy regulatory commission opened a formal investigation after finding evidence that Enron along with two other companies "may have manipulate[d] prices" at the height of California's energy crisis. With schemes named "Fat Boy" and "Death Star," the report said "Enron['s] trading strategies may have involved deceit...[and] false information... to 'game the system.'"

TELEVISION NEWS (FROM TAPE): "In California, the energy crisis..."

BILL MOYERS: Big news at the time...and now, it's been revealed that energy companies were gouging California consumers. Last week, a judge concluded that El Paso Corporation - the nation's largest natural gas company - jacked up prices by holding back "extremely large amounts" of gas needed to produce electricity. California is seeking to recover nearly $4 billion. El Paso denies the charge.

CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): I'm really skeptical...

BILL MOYERS: Congressman Henry Waxman is a member of the House Energy Committee.

CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN: Now the proponents of this energy legislation want to have electricity deregulation all around the country and they want to repeal the law that protects the consumers and rate payers from the kind of manipulation of the market that we'd already seen take place in California.

BILL MOYERS: Not to worry, says David Owens, Vice President of the Edison Electric Institute which represents electric utilities. Consumers will have protection from these kinds of scandals.

DAVID OWENS, VICE PRESIDENT, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE: By no means is the government getting shy about its enforcement in its oversight of the markets. And I can go on and on. State commissions themselves are becoming much more active and aggressive in behavior. And the industry is seeking to become even more self-policing.

BILL MOYERS: The industry has powerful friends. And consumer advocates say those friends are rewarding industry for millions of dollars in campaign contributions. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, power companies pushing for the law's repeal gave more than $15 million to federal candidates.

Now, just a few politicians, often operating in secret, are deciding the future of public oversight. That has Henry Waxman worried.

CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN: This would be a major thing to do in a conference where you take something that was passed by the Senate but never fully considered in the House. Literally a handful of people, maybe two, one from Texas and one from Louisiana in the House sit down and decide what the energy policy's going to be without the members of the House having had a chance to evaluate it through the normal, legislative process.

BILL MOYERS: It's up for grabs now...and the public has an enormous stake in what's being decided behind these closed doors.

That's it for tonight. We'll see you next week. For NOW I'm Bill Moyers.



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