"In the future, only a few companies will be able to shape the developments in this industry - Aventis CropScience… will be one of them"
So said Jurgen Dormann, Aventis CEO when Aventis (formerly AgrEvo) was created in December 1999 by the merger of Germany's Hoechst (AgrEvo was their joint company with Schering) and France's Rhone-Poulenc's Agro. However, following a series of fiascos, marked by a continuing failure on Aventis' part to either play by the rules or to tell the truth (see the Aventis' Pants on Fire Award), Aventis agreed in October 2001 to sell off its agricultural biotech sector Aventis CropScience to German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer.
The principal goal of Aventis CropScience has been the global take-up of GM crops. Aggressively disregarding the strength of public opposition to the open release of GM crops as well as the many scientific concerns about GM contamination - Aventis CropScience has covered a larger area of the UK with unwanted GM crops than any other company. That is what has made it UK public enemy number 1 and so it will remain under Bayer, or any other company's ownership, as long as it remains committed to the global imposition of genetic engineering.
Who are Bayer?
Bayer named as 1 of the 10 worst corporations
Protesters disrupt Bayer shareholders meeting (April 2002)
GM protesters blockade Bayer
GM safety tests 'flawed' [on Bayer/Aventis GM crop]
Farmers sue Aventis over GM contamination
Aventis' GM contamination in Lincolnshire
The Starlink fiasco
AgrEvo/Aventis in secret GM trials
AUSTRALIA: Aventis reprimanded for another GM safety breach
AVENTIS's secret tests hit the headlines
to defend its GM Maize
"We want to see Aventis forced to co-operate with the hearing... It is a disgraceful position deliberately intended to keep the public in the dark." - The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Federal Officials Blame Aventis For Biotech Corn Found in Food
Contamination problem caused by AVENTIS could cost 'hundreds of millions'
GREENPEACE ACQUITTED FOR TRASHING AVENTIS GM TRIAL
GM police to check Aventis canola sites
Aventis banned GM plants dumped in tip!
the UK Government: PR partners
Evidence for an intimate working relationship on PR matters between Aventis and those at the very heart of the Blair Government.
The Art of Communication,
Finding out the facts can be a very frustrating and time consuming business when you're dealing with a company like AgrEvo
Bayer is a huge German chemical and pharmaceuticals company with worldwide
sales last year of nearly $30bn. Despite considerable holdings in crop
protection, Bayer has so far kept its distance from GM, but is now looking to concentrate on and expand its pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors.
Buying Aventis CropScience makes it the world's number two pesticide producer (behind Syngenta) raising its share of the global market to over 15%.
Bayer now owns over half of the GM crop varieties currently seeking approval for commercial growing in the EU. These include nine varieties of
oilseed rape and one of maize, all of which are modified to be tolerant of the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, or Liberty (which they also own). Should
the de facto EU moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops be lifted, Bayer will be best placed to flood European fields with GM crops. They
will also be responsible for the majority of GM field trials, including the controversial farmscale trials, over the coming year. Bayer has a history of
corporate crimes that makes even old-school bio-tech baddies Monsanto seem like angels.
In 1925 they were one of the companies that merged to form IG Farben. During World War Two, IG Farben used forced labour in many of its factories including the Buna synthetic rubber plant at Monowitz - effectively a corporate concentration camp - close to Auschwitz. IG Farben subsidiary Degesch manufactured and sold Zyklon B, the poison gas used in the gas chambers. More recently, Bayer was one of a group of pharmaceutical companies who took the South African government to court for allowing the production of cheap generic versions of HIV drugs. Earlier this year they were forced to withdraw one of their leading pharmaceutical products, the anticholesterol drug Baycol or Lipobay, which was linked to over 50 deaths. And then there's the poisoned Peruvian kids and the nerve gas...
[Taken from Corporate Watch newsletter December 2001: http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/newsletter/issue6/nl6_bayer_hazzard.html]
Multinational Monitor, a Washington DC based monthly magazine founded
by Ralph Nader, recently named Bayer among the 10 worst corporations of
2001, for overcharging the US government and public for the anti-anthrax
drug Cipro, as well as dangerous peddling of antibiotics for poultry (contributing
to antibiotic resistance among humans) and its harassment of the Coalition
Against Bayer-Dangers, which had set up a website with materials on Bayer
The Coalition has renamed its website BayerWatch. It can be found at: http://www.cbgnetwork.org/
For multiple news items on Bayer/Aventis/AgrEvo and GM crops see the GM Food website's Company News page at: http://www.connectotel.com/gmfood/aventis.html
See also the new website http://www.bayerhazard.com
COLOGNE, Germany, April 26 (Reuters) - Protesters disrupted the annual
shareholders meeting of Bayer AG on Friday, blasting the company's the
genetically modified crop technology.
One protester climbed up a ladder next to a large screen television
during a presentation shouting "Down with Bayer'' as security rushed to
Another demonstrator charged the podium and interrupted Strenger's speech,
shouting protests about the company's technology before being
taken away by security.
Bayer has boosted its biotechnology prowess through its 7.25-billion-euro
($6.51 billion) acquisition approved last week of Franco-German Aventis
SA's Aventis CropScience.
Anti-genetic modification (GM) protesters blockaded the UK headquarters of German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer on the day the company floats on the New York Stock Exchange. Bayer are being targeted for their ongoing takeover of Aventis CropScience, the company behind most of the UK's controversial GM crop trials.
...Around 60 protesters blocked entrances to the carparks at Bayer's
Newbury headquarters using a scaffold tripod and a human chain of people
padlocked together, and hung banners outside the building to highlight
Bayer´s recently acquired status of Europe's biggest GM research
company. After a blockade of the site lasting six hours, activists left
peacefully, of their own accord, without arrest and having made their point.
The Wall Street launch is important for Bayer as the company is attempting
to raise capital to fund the Aventis CropScience takeover and its internal
The crop, T-25 GM maize, was tested in laboratory experiments on
During the tests, twice as many chickens died when fed on T-25 GM maize, compared with those fed on conventional maize.
This research was apparently overlooked when the crop was given marketing approval in 1996.
Lord Alan Gray, who chairs the government's advisory committee on releases to the environment, voiced his concerns about the tests to BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme.
He said the safety tests had not been good enough to give a real picture of the risks involved in marketing T25 GM maize.
But, following an investigation by BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme,
Acre's chairman Lord Alan Gray admitted he believed the research should
have been re-analysed and that safety tests were not good enough to give a true picture of the risks involved.
T-25 was first approved by the French authorities, then the rest of Europe in 1996 but it was only when it reached the seed listing stage that doubts began to be raised.
T-25 GM Maize is being grown throughout the UK as part of the government's field crop trials and is intended to be used as cattle feed.
Dr Stephen Keston, a senior researcher at the department of veterinary sciences at Bristol Veterinary School, studied the initial tests.
He said they were "not really good enough to base a student project on, let alone a marketing consent for a GM product".
"It does surprise me that we have got so far down the line of licensing a GM crop apparently based on very weak and thin science," he said.
When the marketing consent was granted there were only two animal studies relating to T25 available to the approval committees - one on rats and one on chickens - and both have subsequently been criticised by independent scientists.
Dr Gray was on the committee that gave the original consent.
He said advice given to the panel from its experts had initially said there was "nothing in any of the data they looked at which made them believe there was a risk to the animals, humans and the environment from feeding this product".
But he admitted it may have been better to re-analyse the chicken feeding tests, given the doubts raised.
Peter Ainsworth, shadow secretary of state for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), is calling for an overhaul of the whole approvals process for GM crops.
In January, the government announced 44 more sites across the country would be used for farm trials of genetically modified oilseed rape and beet.
Campaigners, including Friends of the Earth, have long argued against the trials and expressed fears about safety.
Several times trial fields have been taken over by protesters who have
uprooted the experimental plants in order to prevent what they describe
as contamination of other crops and wild species.
A group representing Saskatchewan organic farmers filed a class action lawsuit Thursday against Monsanto and Aventis, seeking damages for crops contaminated by genetically engineered canola [oilseed rape].
The organic farmers allege pollen has carried the genetically engineered
canola into their fields, contaminating conventional and organic canola
Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, which represents organic growers in the province.
The lawsuit, on behalf of the 1,000 to 1,200 organic farmers in the
western Canadian province, also seeks to get an injunction to prevent Monsanto
introducing its modified wheat in Saskatchewan. The claim states that when Monsanto and Aventis introduced their genetically engineered canolas they
knew, or ought to have known, that the engineered canola would spread and contaminate the environment.
[for why the Aventis spin meisters won a pants on fire award for their
amazing flexibility, stunning inconsistency, and ludicrous inaccuracy see:
Dear Mr. Rylott
I am writing to say, with regard to the above mentioned trial, that
I have noted your comments regarding this matter and that my reaction to
comments is utter disbelief.
How can you, how can Aventis itself, continue to pretend to be a responsible
organisation while at the same time making ludicrous and unfounded
statements as to the current situation at this trial site?
You have said about the flowering oilseed rape:
It is the wrong end of the field.
This is blatantly not true - both halves of the field are in flower.
It is not OSR that is in flower, it is Charlock.
Mr Rylott, I am not sure what you are qualified in but I would have thought that someone in your position would be able to tell the difference between crops and weeds. If you are genuinely unsure of the difference I will happily send you copies of pages from a wild flower book. The difference is glaringly obvious. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that Charlock is also in flower and, in case you are not aware of this either, I would like to point out that Charlock is a very close relative of oilseed rape - and cross pollination can easily and readily occur.
That it is nearly December so it cannot be flowering.
Then perhaps we should send you some photographs as you seem to be disinclined to make a visit to the site yourself. I give you my assurances, Mr Rylott, that the field, both halves, is in considerable flower and that the Charlock is also flowering on neighbouring fields.
That even though it is in flower it is not pollinating.
I have to ask, Mr Rylott, but just how stupid do you think we are? It is basic biology - if a plant is in flower then it is going to pollinate - both by wind and by insects - and if you think it is too late in the year for insects to be out and about then I suggest you take a day off from the office and visit the countryside. You may find it educational.
There is something in your comments that gives me great cause for concern:
firstly you say it’s the wrong end of the field, then when it is pointed
you that it is both halves of the field that are affected you say it is Charlock, then when that is also disproved you say its too late in the year to be
flowering and on this disproval you then say it is not pollinating. Why could you not just visit the site, assess the problem, admit you were at fault and
take immediate steps to put the matter right? But no, what do you do? Your company makes yet another false statement.
' "In our opinion there is non-compliance issue whatsoever," he said.
"But we are not taking the complaint lightly and we are investigating the
government officials," he said. He said the rules say the plants do not have to be destroyed until the new year. Growers of GM crops are actually
encouraged to let volunteer plants flower so they are easier to identify and destroy, the spokesman added.'
Can I draw your attention to the consent for growing OSR, Annex 1, Part VII, 36, where it says: (very clearly I might add) that
"After finishing the trial the test site will be monitored for
effective volunteer control, according to Good Agricultural Practice, for
one year post-release
at periods of the year WHEN CLIMATIC CONDITIONS FAVOUR the possible emergence of volunteers... All volunteer plants or related weeds
found in the area will be removed BEFORE FLOWERING by chemical and/or physical means."
I am aware that these are not actual volunteers, that the flowers are
not a direct result of seed from the GM crop, and that the OSR has re-sprouted
however the effect is still the same, the GM plants are in flower, they are pollinating, the Charlock is in flower both within and outside the site and is also
in flower and there is now a serious risk that GM contamination will spread outside of the site onto neighbouring farm land.
These regulations, however inadequate, are there to protect our crops
and our environment. They must not be disregarded for the convenience
foreign company and the financial return it would like to give its shareholders. What has occurred is a breach of regulations and an act of utter
negligence and/or incompetence. Aventis must now admit it is at fault and accept the full consequences of its actions. Breaches of regulations mean
What has occurred - what is still occurring (as these crops are still
in the ground and are still flowering) may have serious and unfortunately
problems for an agricultural county such as Lincolnshire. It is now possible, especially with the substantial amount of trials held in this county, that
Lincolnshire crops will seen to be GM contaminated. That would destroy this county Mr Rylott. We have only 2 major industries in Lincolnshire. One
is agriculture. The other is tourism. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on these two industries. If we lose our agriculture we lose our
communities. And what tourist wants to come to a waste land? What do we advertise? Come to the GM capital of the world? Come and look at the
mutant plants? Eat our home grown produce?
Mr Rylott, this total disregard for the well being of this county cannot
be allowed to go on. We have today written to the government asking
crop is immediately destroyed and that no more GM crops are planted in this county. We have also asked that the licence granted to Aventis to grow
GM crops in this country be immediately withdrawn due to incompetence and negligence.
We will take whatever action necessary to ensure that the Government acts on our request.
Before I go I have some questions for you Mr Rylott, which I sincerely hope you will take the time to answer.
1)Why has the trial site not been monitored as specified under Annex 1, Part VII, 36?
2)Why have the flowering OSR and related weeds not been removed before flowering?
3)Why have you been so remiss as not to visit the site when the problem was brought to your attention?
4)Why do you persist in denying that there is a problem?
5)Why does your company want GM contamination to occur? If you did not
want it to occur you would abide by the rules and regulations and ensure
that it did not occur.
6)Why does your company refuse to accept total liability for any problems that may occur from GM crops?
7)Why does your company continue to treat the general public as uneducated
and stupid - which your comment about no pollination occurring implies?
One comment on this Mr Rylott. We, the general public, are not stupid, or uneducated, which is why there has been such a demand for GM free produce and which is why supermarkets are going to great trouble and expense top remove these products from our food.
This letter is an open letter, it has been copied and sent to the NFU,
to DEFRA, to the media, to our district and county councils and to other
parties. We all look forward to your prompt reply.
On behalf of The Gaia Trust
The Starlink fiasco started when in October 2000 traces of an Aventis GM corn [maize] called StarLink showed up in taco shells in the U.S. even though it was not approved for human consumption. It led to a massive recall of over 300 food brands. The 'StarLink' gene has also shown up unexpectedly in a second company's corn and in US corn exports.
"In Iowa, StarLink corn represented 1 percent of the total crop, only 1 percent. It has tainted 50 percent of the harvest." ABC NEWS November 28, 2000
"Aventis CropScience Wednesday was at a loss to explain why another variety of corn besides its StarLink brand is producing the [StarLink] Cry9C protein." United Press International November 22, 2000, Second corn variety producing Cry9C
"The US Department of Agriculture claims to know where the maize — banned from all food use globally and only recently approved for US exports — is located. Aventis, the French firm which developed the genetically modified maize sold throughout the US maize belt in 1999 and 2000, says it knows, also. So do I: StarLink maize is everywhere." US agricultural journalist Alan Guebert writing in Farmers Weekly, December 8, 2000
US corn exports to big buyers have been badly hurt: "...traders in Tokyo said on Wednesday the discovery that StarLink`s Cry9C protein had spread to another variety of corn only deepened doubts that U.S. corn can be kept free of genetic modification."
US corn farmer and GM seed salesman, Nebraska, Dec 2000:
"....you guys created this monster; you clean it up. I have learned my lesson. No more GMO crops on this farm — ever." [quoted in UK 'Farmers Weekly' December 8, 2000]
All quotes unless otherwise indicated taken from:
Corn leaving bad taste in world markets as GMO worries build
Reuters, Wednesday -- November 22, 2000
The following open letter from Rev Paul Cawthorne to his Bishop explains how he discovered a secret AgrEvo/Aventis GM trial had been going on in Shropshire, involving a GM maize already banned elsewhere (eg in Switzerland and Austria) because of the threat it poses to non-GM crops and honey.
The secrecy of such trials means, as Rev Cawthorne points out, that non-GM farmers, and not least organic farmers, as well as bee keepers, may be totally unaware of the threat of GM contamination of their crops and honey.
The secrecy also means that buyers like TESCO, who are seeking to avoid produce grown on trial sites, may be misled as to crop status. Future purchasers of the land could also be left in the dark.
Last and not least, the local community is also kept in the dark despite the frequent protestations from Aventis and the Government that thay are in favour of openness and transparency!
Because these trials are taking place in secret there may be no way of quantifying the extent to which this has been occurring.
Note also the deliberate way in which the secrecy seems to have been maintained through deception.
Rev Cawthorne writes: "My impression of being stonewalled on this subject
from different directions since July has now been shown to have a solid
basis... I also contacted AgrEvo back in August and was told that they
had no such test in Shropshire." (our emphasis).
52 Lawley Gate, Telford, Shrops. TF4 2NZ tel. 01952 504 855
17 November, 1999
Dear Bishop David,
Re: unpublicised plantings of GM maize in Shropshire
I have finally received some reliable information about the matter we discussed last month and am writing to ask for your help in clarifying the position further.
Mr. Dick Stayward of the MAFF Plant Variety Rights Office, White House Lane, Huntington Road, Cambridge, CB3 OLF has confirmed that there has indeed been a GM forage maize test in Shropshire this year. It is a national seed list trial done under a Part C European authorisation and as such was not publicallv notified. In response to my specific enquiry naming a place he confirmed that it took place "in the Wellington area", but would not specify the farm involved.
This lack of specificity, while partly understandable in the current polarised climate of political secrecy and dramatic protest gesture, makes it difficult to know whether cross-pollination is likely to be affecting particular local farmers who have already expressed concem, local beekeepers whose organisation has advised isolation distances and seems in any case an example of singular lack of democratic accountability.
My impression of being stonewalled on this subject from different directions since July has now been shown to have a solid basis. Letters to relevant MPs did not elicit substantial results until a series of phone calls showing some detailed knowledge to a well-briefed DETR official. I also contacted AgrEvo back in August and was told that they had no such test in Shropshire. I have since been given conflicting information concerning which company has been involved with this testing, but have no reason to doubt the initial assurance. I am still unsure of the truth and am currently pursuing issues of subcontracting and licencing of the AgrEvo GM maize technology to more obscure companies. lf it was so difficult for someone with background knowledge to find out what was going on, how much harder do you think it is for most of our concerned parishioners to discover what is happening in their own backyards at present? Such secrecy displays democratic deficit and seems likely to feed consumer fears by provoking a perfectly rational lack of trust.
This investigative sequence seems to disclose the slightly surreal situation of one having to know the answer about location, company and approval type in order to know the right question to ask and which office to approach tc get a truthful answer! It appears that MAFF directed my letter to DETR rather than the relevant section of their own deparunent for reasons best known to themselves, maybe to preserve deniability or through lack of competence. It may be that an enquiry from someone of your standing would elicit comprehensive information on the locations of P C-authorised plantings of GM crops in the Lichfield diopese and I would ask you to consider seeking such information from MAFF. Until such locations are publicised, it may not be possible for people like organic farmers to ensure that their forage crop is GM-free, nor for bee-keepers to ensure they represent their product correctly. I know at least one organic farmer in Shropshire is seeking detailed legal opinion in anticipation of having to seek redress through the courts against farmers or seed companies.
lt is possible that this particular planting has already been harvested. Do you think that the Church of Englnda should be pressing for full transparency in GM plantings next year?
Rev. Paul Cawthorne
Curate, Central Telford Ecumenical Parish
Chair, Telford Partnership Social Responsibility Group
Independent on Sunday
'Secret test' threat to GM crop trials
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
1 October 2000
Britain's embattled GM crop trials were plunged into fresh controversy yesterday when officials admitted keeping a crucial test secret.
The secrecy, which contradicts repeated government assurances that the trials would be open, is bound to spark afurious row as an unprecedented official public hearing into GM crops opens tomorrow.
It will also cast doubt over the granting of formal approval for a new GM maize to be sown in Britain.
Environmentalists are planning to turn the hearing over whether the
maize, produced by the GM company Aventis, can be placed on the official
National Seed List into the biggest public examination yet into GM crops.
By entering 67 objections to the listing of the maize the first of a series
GM seeds due to seek approval they have forced the Government to hold the hearing, which is expected to last 10 weeks, under the little-used 1982 Seed Regulations.
The secrecy row is a new set-back for the Government and the GM industry
after the acquittal, 10 days ago, of Lord Melchett and 27 other Greenpeace
protesters, who destroyed a GM crop in Norfolk.
Trial workers at the controversial Aventis Crop Science field trials of genetically modified canola in Mount Gambier, SA, have inadvertently breached national security rules, by carrying GM seeds home in their clothing.
The workers argued that they were not provided with protective clothing, safety guidelines, or even informed that the crop was GM.
The breach, which is the third of its kind in four years, has prompted conservationists to demand an immediate halt to all GM field trials. In March last year, Aventis was reprimanded after dumped GM contaminated trash was found by the roadside. A report issued in the same month by the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (IOGTR) criticised the company after finding uncontrolled re-growth of GM canola in 21 of the 58 Tasmanian trial sites.
This latest breach is proof, according to many, that Aventis is not
taking the voluntary safety guidelines seriously. Scott Kinnear,
spokesman for the Organic Federation of Australia, commented yesterday:
"This is a clear indication that Aventis is not fit to hold a licence.
They have clearly failed to demonstrate their ability to act in a manner
that ensures these field trials are contained."
BY VALERIE ELLIOTT, COUNTRYSIDE EDITOR
THE biotechnology company which wants to sell GM fodder maize in Britain astonished environmental groups last night by refusing to give
evidence at a public hearing on the issue.
Aventis, which has applied for a licence to sell GM fodder maize seeds
to farmers, yesterday informed the first meeting of the ten-week hearing
that it had no plans to call any witnesses to support its case.
Anti-GM campaigners said that the move was farcical and accused Aventis
of "keeping the public in the dark" on GM crops. They vowed to
put pressure on the company to change its mind.
During procedural discussions yesterday the hearing chairman, Alun Alesbury,
a senior planning barrister, reacted angrily when he was told
of Aventis's stance by Joel Smith, the firm's legal representative.
He said: "Your client's stance is not helpful to the proceedings at
all. It does not make for a balanced set of proceedings and does not facilitate
He persistently questioned Mr Smith on the matter and asked him to reconsider. Aventis stood its ground.
A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said:
"We want to see Aventis forced to co-operate with the hearing and to put
forward witnesses. It is a disgraceful position deliberately intended to keep the public in the dark."
Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, added: "Why should the public
have any faith in their GM products if they are not prepared to stand up
and argue for them?"
WASHINGTON -- Federal officials blamed the unauthorized appearance of geneticially engineered corn in the food supply solely on its manufacturer -- Aventis SA of France.
The company, which designed Starlink corn to be toxic to insect pests,
failed in its responsibility for segregating Starlink from breeds of corn
that might be eaten by humans, officials from the Environmental Protection
Agency and Department of Agriculture said Thursday. The department is still
trying to locate about 1.2 million bushels of the 80 million bushels
of Starlink planted for the 2000 season. Aventis ``didn`t live up
to its side of the bargain,`` said Jim Aidala, an official from the EPA,
which approved Starlink only for animal feeds or industrial use because
the agency couldn`t rule out the possibility that humans would be
allergic to it. The agency`s approval was conditioned on Aventis`s agreement
to keep Starlink from being eaten by humans.
As much as half of the 2 billion bushels of corn in Iowa could contain traces of StarLink, a genetically modified [AVENTIS] corn not approved for human consumption. The mixing of conventional and StarLink corn could cost farmers and elevators "hundreds of millions of dollars," said Ed Beaman, executive vice president of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, based in Des Moines.
It's unclear whether Aventis, the developer of StarLink, will pick up
that cost."We're telling our members to document, document, document,"
said Beaman, whose association represents most of Iowa's 425 grain elevators.
"The time has come for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop
growing GM crops."
Peter Melchett outside Norwich Crown Court 20th September 2000
"Every one of them is intelligent, idealistic and committed to their
cause. All were willing to take direct action in support of it, with the
vital Greenpeace proviso of non-violence: they did not fight the police
who arrived to arrest them, the nearest thing to resistance any offered
being to go limp."
Judge David Mellor after hearing the Greenpeace 28 give evidence
The judge also ruled that the prosecution pay all the costs of both trials
Daily Mail (21st September 2000) - front page banner headline "NOT GUILTY" subheading... "devastating implications for the Frankenstein food industry"
Eastern Daily Press (21st September 2000) - front page banner headline "Crop Trials in Chaos" and a very nice photo of the 3 Norfolk Greenpeace 28 defendants: Peter Melchett, Nicole Cook and Michael Uwins
DAILY EXPRESS LEADER (21st September 2000): GM farce is no
The Daily Express has never condoned direct action against genetically modified crops. But the Norwich Crown Court verdict yesterday, which saw Greenpeace's Lord Melchett and his team cleared of criminal damage after destroying trial GM crops, reduces the Government's policy on GM testing to a farce. The Greenpeace activists had already previously been cleared of theft of crops. What was really on trial here was GM. No jury is going to convict protesters when they too share concerns about such produce being grown in this country. Already, £250,000 of taxpayers' money has been wasted bringing these activists to court. Surely the Government does not need any more show trials to get the message? It must learn a sharp lesson from this verdict, rethink its policy and ban GM testing - at least until the risk of cross-contamination can be eradicated.
All experimental sites of genetically modified canola from the multinational Aventis are to be investigated by Federal officials after guidelines were allegedly breached in South Australia this year.
The Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (IOGTR) yesterday confirmed it would audit the Aventis sites after subsequent breaches were found following a spot check at Mount Gambier in late July.
Breaches include the refusal to comply with requirements for a 15-metre buffer around a GM canola crop.
It will also audit all of the company's paperwork associated with its experimental Canola program.
The audit coincides with the publication of the first data in the United States showing the potential for genetically engineered pollen in the wild to reduce insect populations.
An IOGTR spokeswoman said it had been further alarmed by the company's submission to a Senate inquiry, dismissing the breaches as not serious and mere differences in scientific opinion.
An adverse finding could result in the French-owned company losing its permit to conduct canola trials, which it currently does on about 70 sites across Australia.
The trials are used for both the development of a new strain of herbicide-resistant hybrid canola and to produce seed for export back to North America.
But at the Senate inquiry into gene technology legislation, which met in Adelaide yesterday, Aventis representatives alleged that a related government body had known for years about similar breaches but took no action until revelations in the media.
A consultant for the company, Mr George Brownbill, yesterday read out an extract from a 1998 letter from the company to the Government's Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee in which it states that the company did not intend to comply with requirements for a 15-metre buffer around a GM canola crop.
The requirement was for the buffer to consist of non-GM canola plants but the company did not want this because pollen from them would corrupt the GM variety which it wanted to export.
In the US study on crosspollination between GM and non-GM crops, scientists from Iowa State University have found that plants growing in and near corn fields are being dusted with enough toxic pollen from GM crops to kill monarch caterpillars that feed on them.
The genetically modified corn produces the insecticide Bt in its tissues, including its windblown pollen.
In late March, it was revealed that GM material from an Aventis site near Mt Gambier had been dumped unburied at an open tip and that sexually compatible weeds species were growing around the site.
At the time the company denied any breaches and an interim report by the IOGTR indicated nothing of significance had happened.
But it is understood the Federal Health Minister, Dr Wooldridge, intervened, demanding a more thorough investigation. This was released by the Senate inquiry yesterday and revealed five breaches by Aventis at Mt Gambier.
An Aventis spokeswoman, Ms Naomi Stevens, said yesterday the company was not concerned by proposed audit of its sites. "We are comfortable with that. If they want to waste more taxpayer's money they can do so."
But the Federal Opposition's GM spokesman, Mr Alan Griffin, said it
was inadequate to just monitor the Aventis site and that all GM trials
in Australia should be monitored.
"All genetically modified plant trials are supposed to be conducted under strict control guidelines..."
"These sites so far have been kept secret from local councils, the media and even state government agencies..."
March 25, 2000, Nationwide General News; Australian General News
Banned genetically modified plants dumped at tip
MELBOURNE, March 25 AAP -
Experimental genetically engineered canola plants, not approved for public release in Australia, have reportedly been dumped in an open commercial rubbish tip, near the South Australian city of Mount Gambier. Federal government experts have warned that herbicide-resistant "super weeds", which are almost impossible to eradicate, could emerge after such plants cross-pollinate with certain common weed species, The Age reported. All genetically modified plant trials are supposed to be conducted under strict control guidelines, because a weed developing herbicide resistance would be a disaster for Australian agriculture and the environment.
The dumped plants being tested by the multinational crop science company Aventis contained at least two genetic modifications - one giving herbicide resistance and a second encouraging them to make hybrids, the paper said.
They are also likely to have residue from a herbicide glufosinate ammonium not yet approved in Australia, and may have had a third genetic modification to give resistance to two common antibiotics - one used in human pharmaceuticals. Aventis, a French-German conglomerate formed from a merger of two companies in December, was growing the canola on a site at Yells Road, Moorak, a few kilometres south of Mount Gambier, the paper said. The site had been rented from a potato farmer who said he had signed a confidentiality agreement, but he confirmed both the company and the crop.
These sites so far have been kept secret from local councils, the media
and even state government agencies, but in this case a concerned farmer
informed The Age about its location, the paper said.
The UK Government claims to be independent of the biotech industry and to be guided by independent scientific advice. Dr Jack Cunningham, the former head of the Cabinet Office, which orchestrates the Government's strategy on GM, even went so far as to declare that the Government was far closer to the consumer and the environmental organisations than it was to the biotech industry.
On the other hand, the Government has gone to extraordinary lengths , up to and including illegality, in order to speed up farmscale GM trials for the biotech company Aventis (formerly AgrEvo). In September of last year the Government and Aventis conceded that the consent given for Aventis's GM winter oilseed rape trials was “unlawful.” This was the third time that the Government, following a court challenge, had been shown to be acting illegally over GM crops in a way that suited the interests of companies in a hurry to get their crops to market.
Still more to the point, a leaked memorandum in May of last year disclosed that, under Dr Cunningham's direction, the Government had a spin-doctor operation (called the "Biotechnology Presentation Group" or "GM Communicaions Unit") running in the Cabinet Office amongst whose purposes was the manipulation of the the media, and hence public opinion, through the use of "independent" scientists promoting pro-GM views in media interviews and articles.
There have also been some particularly striking examples, involving the Cabinet Office, of just how very intimately the Government and Aventis work together for PR purposes.
One incident involved John Ingham of the Daily Express. In late July 1999 Ingham contacted Aventis's chief PR man, Des D'Souza, to ask about a leaked memo showing that Aventis was seeking a massive increase in the number and size of the GM farmscale trials. D'Souza told Ingham he had no comment to make on the contents of the memo but shortly afterwards the Government spin unit intervened on behalf of Aventis, calling Ingham to offer to deal with the points he'd raised with D'Souza. The Express ran a front page story  on what had happened and in an editorial questioned the propriety of a Government, which is supposed to be regulating the biotech industry in the interests of the public, in reality promoting corporate interests at taxpayers' expense.
 Daily Express, Friday July 23, 1999 OUTRAGE OVER GM SPIN TEAM
Taxpayer funds propaganda unit as crop trials soar from 6 to 75
For more information on the Lyng trial click
For information on other AgrEvo trials held in Norfolk and AgrEvo's contact details click here.
For a press article on why the AgrEvo crop in the UK farmscale trials has been banned in Switzerland, click GM crop to stay in Norfolk despite Swiss ban
My Norfolk Diary by Karly Graham (39*) or The Art of Communication, AgrEvo Style
not featuring (much!) - Clive Rainbird and Des D'Souza (DD),
Biotech Communication Managers, AgrEvo
23 June 1999
Wrote to Clive Rainbird inviting AgrEvo to nominate representative to attend
public meeting 10 July.
E-mail to Clive Rainbird asking for reply to my letter.
Uncomfortably close to 10th. No reply from either farmer Brigham or AgrEvo.
E-mailed Clive Rainbird then left telephone message.
Left telephone message for Clive Rainbird and e-mailed him. By fluke caught
him in office on my second call. Very polite and apologetic for not having
replied earlier. I explained who we were (and who we weren't) and after some
deliberation he pronounced me 'sincere' and that AgrEvo would attend our
meeting. Asked me to phone his colleague Des D'Souza tomorrow.
Rang DD to make arrangements for meeting and to advise speakers - so far
Peter Melchett and Sue Mayer , still waiting to hear from Brigham. DD
abrupt, aggressive, rude (Iwouldn't normally put up with it but I wanted him
there on 10th) and demanding - which media had we contacted, which media had
contacted us, which might attend (said ominously he didn't "like surprises"),
what numbers expected (impossible to predict). When I mentioned Brigham yet
to reply, DD said he was "perfectly happy" to appear alone up against
Melchett & Mayer. Told him politely that would never happen. Came off 'phone
feeling I'd done eight rounds with Mike Tyson.
TWO DAYS before meeting received letter from Brigham saying he'd be
"elsewhere" on 10 July. Rang DD to advise him. DD strangely charm itself,
all sweetness and light. Perhaps he has a twin.
Public meeting. Packed to rafters - standing in doorways and sitting in
aisle. Probably 120ish. Afterwards DD says warmly he's more than willing to
answer any further questions.
Wrote to DD, discussing the meeting and confirming his stated willingness to
0530 'Phone call from journalist to advise of early morning visit to GM crop
Call from Radio 4 Today programme. DD apparently 'phoned Today rubbishing
Peter Melchett's comment that 100-200 attended Lyng public meeting, as of
course Village Hall Fire Regulations only allow for 50. (What's he trying to
say? OK, I confess - I broke the Fire Regs). Would I come on tomorrow and
answer him? Further call from Radio Norfolk asking me to do same.
0750: Up against DD on Radio 4 Today programme. John Humphreys gave him a
mauling so not much for me to do. 0810 on Radio Norfolk, change of tack with
DD suddenly full of admiration for me and the meeting. 0820 Message left on
my ansafone from DD - can't we talk, it should never have got this far etc.
Could've been my closest friend. The many faces of Des D'Souza.
Wrote to DD with twelve questions, most of which arose from public meeting.
Sent DD e-mail requesting reply to letter.
Wrote to Clive Rainbird, enclosing copy letter to DD, requesting one of them
Sent e-mail to DD cc Clive Rainbird, asking for reply, referring to his
statements on Radio 4 and Radio Norfolk about being willing to answer any
DD REPLIED! By e-mail, and without apology: he was "too busy catching up"
after his holiday to respond to my letter; he would have to "obtain
information from others" to answer some of our questions, and would "need
colleagues in AgrEvo Europe to provide info" to answer some other questions,
but knew that some of them were "currently on holiday". He would "try to
begin the process next week, depending on how busy the phone is", and hopes
to reply by end September.
Sent e-mail to DD acknowledging he and his colleagues' holiday commitments
and sympathising with his heavy workload as COMMUNICATIONS Manager, however
adding: "questions (3, 5, 7, 9) refer to statements you made at the public
meeting on 10th July, regarding a crop drilled many months ago. These are
points about which you have already spoken publicly and expressed a
willingness to explain openly. They refer to issues which are of great
concern at both a local and national level. I would be most grateful if you
would give these questions your early attention."
4th October 1999
Still waiting sadly by letter-box.
[For a press article about why other local people are also angry about
the lack of information about AgrEvo's farmscale trials click