ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 March 2002


1. Farmer's GM crop rethink
4. Seeds of Destruction; Genetic contamination raises stakes on GMOs


1. Farmer's GM crop rethink

Western Daily Press March 18, 2002

A FORMER farming leader is considering abandoning plans to trial GM crops following complaints from his neighbour - Glastonbury Festival organiser Michael Eavis. Ex-Somerset NFU chairman Finn Christensen sparked a storm of protest when details of the planting were posted on a Government website. He wants to grow 10 hectares of GM maize as part of a Government trial but [this] has angered both Mr Eavis and Greenpeace - one of the festival's major beneficiaries. It would be the first GM site in Somerset.



Liverpool Echo March 7, 2002

AN American company targeted by GM food protesters is building a new processing plant at its Seaforth terminal. Environmental group Greenpeace staged a series of protests at Cargill's Royal Seaforth container terminal over the import of genetically modified soya animal feed from America. But Cargill bosses say the new plant will use maize from Europe and not GM material. Work will start shortly on the pounds 3.85m plant which should be completed by the autumn. The firm said the plant and further investment will help secure the site's existing 51 jobs and create new positions. Seaforth manager Fred Maloney added: "The new plant will be environmentally friendly."

 The plant will provide European customers with masa flour, cooked maize, which is the main ingredient in snack foods.

It is partly funded by a pounds 500,000 Department of Trade and Industry grant and cash from the South Sefton Regeneration board.



Peter Melchett
Evening News (Edinburgh) March 18 2002

PEOPLE who eat organic food are being told that they have to accept that it will be contaminated with genetically modified ingredients. As an example of arrogant nonsense from GM believers, this takes some beating. To listen to the GM lobby, you would think organic food had been invented as a deliberate trick to get in the way of the onward, triumphant march of GM crops. EU and UK organic standards state GM is prohibited in organic farming and food production and the standards of the Soil Association, one of the main Scottish organic certifiers, specify all GM contamination must be avoided.

This reflects what those who buy organic food have said they want and expect. It reflects the values that underpin organic farming, and it is these values that lead people rightly to trust organic food, and to buy it in ever - increasing numbers. More surprisingly, it also reflects what the British Government once believed. Back in 1998, before the three-year, Government-sponsored programme of farm-scale GM crop trials started, the Government promised to protect organic farming from contamination. The Minister for Food Safety at the Ministry of Agriculture, Jeff Rooker, told the House of Commons the Government would "ensure that the expansion of organic farming is not compromised by the introduction of genetically modified crops." He said the Government would ensure "the introduction of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on a trial basis, an experimental basis, or even a full-crop basis, in no way damages organic farming". To make absolutely sure there could be no doubt about the Government's determination, Mr Rooker added: "Given the extremely tight public expenditure restrictions to which we are subject as part of our contract with the electorate, it would be stupid for the Government to push more money into converting to organic farming while allowing the farmers who take that brave step to be damaged by other actions within the process that I have described."

For some reason, Mr Rooker felt that even this might not convince everyone, because he went on: "I want to make it clear that that is the most important sentence that I shall say this evening. I genuinely mean that - those are not words to be put in Hansard and forgotten about; I shall follow through."

Now, just four years later, another Government Minister has admitted that if we have commercial growing of GM crops "contamination is inevitable." Indeed, the Environment Minister Michael Meacher says the public needs to tell the Government what level of GM contamination, if any, they will accept. What has changed? AFTER the British public rejected GM food in 1999, and supermarkets took all GM products off their shelves, the Government realised the expert advice on GM they had been getting was simply ignoring real public concerns, and real identified risks.

Ministers like Mo Mowlam and Mr Meacher were clearly unhappy. So the Government set up the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission to take a wide-ranging look at GM crops, and their social, environmental and economic impacts. In its first report, published late last year, the Commission warned GM trial sites could put both organic and non- organic farms at risk, and said a wider public debate about farming must be held before GM crops could be grown commercially in the UK. In the recent report of the Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, Sir Don Curry and his colleagues went further. They told the Government "a new regulatory monitoring approach is needed" in order to protect consumers' right to chose food uncontaminated with GM. Research just published by the Soil Association shows that over 100 organic farms could be at risk of contamination from the current round of genetically modified crop test sites, three of which are in Scotland.

Planting is due to start from mid-March, and the Government seems more confused than ever over what buffer zones are needed to prevent GM contamination. In Britain, the Government is still recommending only a 200-metre buffer zone is maintained between GM and other similar crops. This is twenty-five times lower than the 5km limit for oil seed rape recently put forward by the European Commission to protect seed purity. Even with this safety margin, the Commission has admitted 0.3 per cent of organic and non-organic oilseed rape seed could be contaminated. In the United States, where GM contamination is now widespread, double the UK buffer zone (400m) is used. The Soil Association is clear, on the basis of advice from scientists and actual experience in North America, that any organic farm within six miles of a GM trial site can be at risk of contamination. Despite all those fine words from Mr Rooker back in 1998, the Government now simply washes its hands of the issue. It leaves responsibility to a GM industry body called SCIMAC and SCIMAC refuses to disclose what distance it considers puts organic farmers at risk. To say both the industry and the Government are in a state of chaos and confusion over GM buffer zones would be an understatement. The final round of trial sites will be planted this autumn and the Government is due to decide next year whether some GM crops can be grown in the UK. MSPs are also now being urged to take a free vote on whether to ban GM foods. But the one thing these three years' of GM trials have given us, is the time to see what happened in America as commercial growing of GM crops took hold. Now we know - widespread GM contamination of non-GM and organic farms, and thus the whole US food sector. This is why the GM industry and the UK Government now admit what environmentalists and the Soil Association long claimed, commercial growing of GM crops makes contamination inevitable. So the Scottish and UK Governments will have to choose between a future for organic food and farming or the commercial growing of GM crops. There is absolutely no market for GM food in the UK or the rest of Europe. With all the problems facing UK farming, no farmer in its right mind is going to grow a crop no-one will buy. The UK market for organic food continues to grow, 70 per cent of it fed by imports. The Government must follow the wishes of its electorate and not allow the introduction of GM crops in the UK.

Lord Peter Melchett is policy director of the Soil Association


4. Seeds of Destruction; Genetic contamination raises stakes on GMOs

By Karen Charman
In These Times, April 1, 2002

Last fall, a University of California, Berkeley researcher announced the discovery of genetically engineered corn in the remote highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The corn was popping up along roadsides, out of cracks in the sidewalks and seemingly anywhere else it could find soil, in scores of mountain settlements. The discovery sent alarms through the scientific community: Mexico banned the use of such corn in 1998. Scientists say it provides yet more evidence that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cannot be controlled once they are released into the environment. The discovery is especially significant because the contamination occurred in the ancestral homeland of corn. Crop homelands must be preserved because they contain important genetic information scientists return to for developing blight-resistant crop strains when catastrophic pests or diseases strike. Oaxacans speculate the transgenic varieties sprouted after falling off government trucks that brought subsidized bioengineered corn as food aid to local communities. "Genes flowing from genetically modified crops can threaten the diversity of natural crops by crowding out native plants," Ignacio
Chapela, the Berkeley scientist who discovered the contamination (published in Nature in September), said in a statement. GM contamination like that in Mexico is one reason many countries have strongly resisted the introduction of GMOs, especially in the genetically diverse developing world. In January 2000, more than 130 developing nations led the fight for an international treaty, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, that would permit a country to refuse transgenic imports if it believes the shipment would endanger its population. The United States has long argued there is no reason for such a protocol at all, and successfully weakened the accord, which is currently being ratified by signatories, with help from a handful of other grain-trading nations. According to Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the United States has not yet ratified the protocol, nor is it expected to do so anytime soon. Last year, an estimated 130 million acres of biotech crops were grown by 5.5 million farmers in 13 countries. In the United States, which planted 88.2 million acres of bioengineered crops last year ­ 68 percent of the global total -- genetic pollution is already rampant. Virtually all Midwestern organic corn samples tested in 2000 showed some degree of transgenic contamination, says Fred Kirschenmann, executive director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. "It's becoming clear that transgenic contamination can only escalate."

Conventional corn farmers who grow non-GM varieties are suffering as a result of the introduction of GM crops.

International markets for U.S. corn have shriveled, if not evaporated, since a global consumer revolt against bioengineered foods began in Europe in 1998. Bill Cristison, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, says the market disruption due to biotech corn has slashed nonorganic corn prices about 30 cents a bushel, or roughly 15 percent. It is a drop growers can ill afford, since it costs them more to produce their crop than the market returns. Aside from market trouble, farmers are being targeted by biotech companies -- especially Monsanto -- when bioengineered seeds show up on their land (see "Bad Seeds," June 25, 2001). Biotechnology companies hold patents on their seeds, and Monsanto is currently suing more than a dozen farmers across Canada and the Midwest for "patent infringement." Many more farmers are reported to be under active investigation. Considering that transgenic contamination is proving impossible to prevent, such legal action may eventually force farmers to buy bioengineered seed whether they -- or their customers -- want it or not.

Though transgenic contamination threatens the lucrative and growing international and domestic markets for organic produce, the U.S. government doesn't seem to care. Last November, the Food and Drug Administration warned organic food manufacturers not to label their products "GMO free," because organic manufacturers likely could not substantiate the claim -- which the agency views as misleading, in any case, since it insists GM foods are safe. But legislation opposing or regulating GM products is appearing around the country. Last year, Maryland banned genetically engineered fish in its waters, and Oregon has a similar measure in the works. New York and Vermont are considering GM crop moratoriums, and Massachusetts, North Carolina and Hawaii are considering laws that regulate growing and marketing certain GM crops. Grassroots farming organizations are also pushing legislation to protect them against lost markets, transgenic contamination, and liability resulting from GMOs. But of the 11 states that have introduced labeling laws, only Maine's -- which is voluntary -- has passed. On the other hand, according to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, as of October 2001, two-thirds of the state laws related to biotechnology enacted last year were promoted by biotechnology companies and targeted activists vandalizing GM crops or animals. Meanwhile, the United States has embraced biotechnology as one of the pillars of economic growth. The federal government continues to operate as the biotech industry's principal cheerleader and bully, and calls for moratoriums on future GMO releases from scientists and the public are ignored or vigorously fought. Despite the demands of foreign governments and consumers in the United States and abroad to label bioengineered food, the feds continue to refuse ­ working hard to prevent anything that might hinder the technology's acceptance. The Bush administration has inserted a provision into "fast track" trade legislation that would deem labeling GM food by other countries an unfair trade barrier and make violators liable for costly trade sanctions. The administration is also preparing to challenge the European Union's requirement for labeling transgenic food at the World Trade Organization. At the beginning of February, activists from more than 50 countries announced support for a treaty to establish the earth's gene pool as a global commons, called the "Intiative to Share the Genetic Commons." They are also beginning an active campaign to challenge government and corporate claims on patents on life in every country. More than 300 organizations have signed on to the effort.

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