ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

4 December 2001


1. Brussels to launch inquiry into Bayer/Aventis take-over
3. Open letter to Aventis on GM contamination

see the current Ecologist for a great Aventis subvertisement

1.Brussels set to launch inquiry into Bayer
Financial Times (London) December 3, 2001

BRUSSELS: The European Commission is tomorrow expected to open a full four-month anti-trust investigation into Bayer's Euros 7.2bn (Dollars 6.4bn) purchase of the agrochemicals unit of Aventis, its Franco-German rival. After a preliminary inquiry, the commission is believed to have decided to launch an in-depth probe because it fears the takeover could give the chemicals and pharmaceuticals group a dominant position in crop protection products.

The purchase of Aventis CropScience - Bayer's biggest deal - would turn the German group into the world's second-largest maker of agrochemicals behind Syngenta, the Anglo-Swiss group. An inquiry by the Brussels authorities is likely to force Bayer to sell some products in several European markets in order to win approval for the purchase. When the deal was announced, Manfred Schneider, Bayer chief, said the company might not have to sell assets to satisfy the anti-trust authorities.

Regulatory examination of the deal is complex because the new company, which is expected to have sales of Euros 8bn by 2005, will have hundreds of products in many countries. It is understood that the commission has identified some 300 products in countries where the combined group would have a market share of more than 35 per cent. Competition experts said the commission decided to open a four-month probe, partly to give itself more time to consider the deal. The commission took a similar line when it examined the merger that formed Syngenta, between Astra-Zeneca of the UK and the Swiss group Novartis. In that case, the deal was cleared after an inquiry because the companies agreed to divest several products. The acquisition of Aventis CropScience would boost Bayer's agrochemicals division and partly offset problems in the pharmaceutical business. The commission declined to comment. Bayer was unavailable for comment.


2. The Sunday Herald, 2 December 2001
Vice-president flies to Britain for debate this week
By Rob Edwards Environment Editor
Monsanto, the US biotechnology giant, is launching a new bid to put genetically modified foods on supermarket shelves in Britain, despite massive opposition from a public alarmed at the risks.
The company's move, backed by other GM multinationals, comes amid mounting controversy surrounding the trials of GM crops at farms in Scotland and England. There are also renewed fears about environmental risks following the discovery that maize in Mexico has been genetically contaminated.
Hugh Grant, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of Monsanto, said it was 'time to put GM foods back on the shelves'. He is flying from Monsanto's headquarters in St Louis, Missouri to lead a major debate in London this week.
He is backed by Aventis, the French company behind GM crop trials in Britain. 'There are no good reasons why GM foods should not be on the shelves,' said Aventis spokesman Julian Little. 'The food has been passed as safe to eat and the crops that produce the food are safe to grow. So the food should go back on the shelves.'
But the suggestion has appalled environmental groups such as the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic food. 'They are launching a charm offensive and waging a war of attrition,' said Soil Association director Patrick Holden. 'But I think the power of the public in Europe is far more powerful than the power of Monsanto. We needn't fear. Public opposition to GM agriculture is not going to fail.'
Holden is to oppose Grant at a public debate organised by The Grocer magazine this Tuesday. Monsanto declined to comment in advance on exactly what Grant would be saying, but an advert for the company in The Grocer makes the agenda very clear. Environmentalists, it claims, want us to believe that GM foods are 'a chilling step by sinister corporations into a potential Doomwatch scenario.' Yet it says 'there is still no hard evidence that GMs pose any risk to human health whatsoever'.
The advert continues: 'Highly respected voices have been heard to describe [GMs] as bringing many advantages to food supply, not least the possible elimination of world hunger. So is it time for a calmer, more rational assessment of GM foods and, in fact, time to put them back on the shelves?'
A study published in the scientific journal Nature last week revealed that maize in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca region of Mexico had been contaminated with genetically engineered segments of DNA from plants grown 60 miles away three years ago. Scientists at the University of California in Berkeley were concerned that the contamination posed a threat to the natural genetic diversity of maize, which originally came from Mexico. 'This is a catastrophe,' said the Soil Association's Patrick Holden. 'The prospect is irreversible contamination of a genetic seed bank which we have had in that country for generations.'
The events in Mexico prompted the SNP to lodge a motion in the Scottish parliament calling on Ross Finnie, the environment minister , to ban GM crops. The SNP also congratulated the Highland Council for giving planning permission for protesters to occupy a site next to a GM trial crop in Munlochy, Ross-shire.
Green MSP Robin Harper claimed that the Aventis GM oilseed rape crop at Munlochy was severely stunted. 'This strange phenomenon certainly calls the trial into question, and possibly all the other trials in Britain,' he said. 'Either the genetic modification has affected plant growth in some strange and unpredictable way, or the trial is not properly designed.'
GM trials in England have come under fire for alleged law-breaking. Friends of the Earth has urged the government to prosecute Aventis, claiming a field of GM weeds was growing illegally in Lincolnshire.
'The biotech industry has gone too far too fast, and is now out of control. GM organisms have already contaminated wild plants in Mexico,' said Pete Riley, GM campaigner for the environmental group. 'Now Aventis has allowed uncontrolled GM oilseed plants to flower in the UK. It's time the government called an immediate halt to this dangerous experiment.'
Aventis's Julian Little said that company scientists and the department of the environment had launched an investigation into the Lincolnshire trials.


3. Open letter from The Gaia Trust: GM contamination at Witham on the Hill, Lincolnshire

[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 those 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 out to 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 issue with 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 of a 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 prosecution.

What has occurred - what is still occurring (as these crops are still in the ground and are still flowering) may have serious and unfortunately permanent 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 that this 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 interested parties.  We all look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours sincerely

Kate O’Connell
On behalf of The Gaia Trust


Dr Paul Rylott, Seed Manager for AVENTIS, told the BBC[2] in answer to a question about whether there was "any danger of cross-pollination" from his company's GM crop trials:

"OK, we know that cross-pollination will occur but we’ve got thirty years of experience to say we know how far pollen will travel. And therefore what we’ve done is we’ll grow a GM crop at a distance away from a non-GM crop, so the people that want non-GM can buy non-GM, and the people that want GM can buy GM.  The two will not get mixed up.  Everybody will have the right to choose." see:

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