ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 September 2002


1. Modified pollen hits organic farms
2. Organic to GM, The Risks


1. Modified pollen hits organic farms

Toronto Star, September 30, 2002

Genetically altered strains spread by wind

Biotech proponents said it couldn't happen. Critics warned it was just a matter of time. Now the nightmare scenario of many farmers seems to have hit Ontario.

Farmers in the province are reporting the first-ever cases of so-called transgenic contamination - pollen from genetically engineered crops blowing in the wind and contaminating natural crops in neighbouring farmers' fields. "I was not ready for it. I feel such a wrath about it," says Alex Nurnberg, an organic farmer hit this month by GM contamination at his180-acre spread near Ailsa Craig, a village northwest of London.

The cases raise questions about whether, in the rush to market new genetically modified foods, the federal government and biotech companies have sacrificed the genetic purity of traditional plants.

The questions are of growing importance as countries around the world move to ban or severely restrict imports of genetically modified foods, cutting off critical markets for Canadian farmers.

Nurnberg got a big surprise this month when tests found 15 to 20 tonnes of his 100-tonne corn harvest had been contaminated by genetically modified pollen, which he believes blew in from a neighbour's farm.

Nurnberg doesn't know the full financial cost of the contamination, but organic corn sells for twice the price of regular corn because it is grown under strictly controlled procedures. It must also be certified as being free of GM contamination and pesticides. Tests to uncover the contamination cost Nurnberg $1,000. Insurance won't cover his losses.

The incident is just the latest example of contamination to hit Ontario farmers, said Larry Lenhardt, leading certifier of organic crops in the province.

Lenhardt, CEO of Organic Crop Producers and Processors Ontario Inc., based in Lindsay, says cases of contamination in Ontario first started popping up in his company's tests "three or four years ago." Since then, he said he has seen "a couple of cases a year.

"The GM farmer's property is trespassing on another farmer's. It's no different from someone's Holstein cow going to visit someone else's farm," he said.

Lenhardt says many GM farmers ignore the risk to their neighbours when planting genetically modified produce. Many don't tell neighbours what they're growing.

"I think the grower of the modified crop grows it and damn the neighbour," he said.

Other contamination cases have sprung up across southern Ontario. Tom Manley, owner of an organic grain processing company in Berwick, in eastern Ontario, said he had to refuse to buy two different farmers' organic soya crops last year because they tested positive for GM contamination.

"They had to sell it for half the price," he said. "The vendors (of GM seeds) have downplayed the potential risk of contamination. They should assume liability for that risk."

Federal officials and some farmers' groups downplay the concerns, saying genetically modified crops are not a health danger and that the sturdy crops help farmers deal with pesky bug infestations.

"To date (contamination) has not been an issue. We haven't seen any concern on the part of the market about transgenic corn," said Brenda Cassidy, spokesperson for the 21,000-member Ontario Corn Producers' Association.

Vern Greenshields, spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief, said the federal government inspects corn farmers to make sure they follow regulations, but acknowledged there are only four inspectors checking farms in Quebec and Ontario, and no inspections in other provinces.

Greenshields said some contamination is inevitable and farmers can't expect "total purity" in their crops. "The issues of the spread of pollen have been studied. (The GM crops) are not released if there are health impacts," he said.


2. Organic to GM, The Risks

Dr Allan Britton

In  answer to an oral question in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair stated, "We are increasing support and subsidy to organic farming. Consequently, the number of organic farmers is increasing." (1)

Yet another statement from the PM, "A new debate is now beginning in Europe. In the wake of the BSE crisis in the EU, member states are starting to question old orthodoxy. Other member states - Germany most recently - are calling for greater emphasis on environmental good practice, quality food and high standards of care for farm animals." (2)

In addition, within the same speech the Prime Minister continues, "We have already started down this road by: Building alliances with like-minded EU partners who share the vision of diverse, competitive and environmentally sustainable agriculture; Redirecting some, EU support from farmers' direct payments into measures which promote environmentally sound farming, including organic farming, and which encourage farmers to diversify their activities. We secured a first significant step in this direction in the last round of CAP reform: Agenda 2000." (2)

These statements if the Prime Minister meant them, would be a big step foreword in the production and delivery of safe and healthy food to the British public. However, we all know that by allowing GM Crops to be grown in the UK even though only on a trial basis the Prime Minister and his Government are putting at risk non-GM crops and most importantly Organic Crops with cross contamination thereby damaging the eco-system and making non GM crops non viable. It has also been established that when animals have eaten GM Corn it has been found that DNA from this foodstuff has made its way into the tissues of these animals.

The most important problem being that cells in the GM food chain contain genetically unstable DNA from the CaMV promoter (Cauliflower Mosaic Virus) which is suspected to be carcinogenic. CaMV is also related to human viruses that cause serious diseases (AIDS and Hepatitis B). The corn grains on one cob of GE corn contain hundreds of millions of such CaMV DNA. (3)

Why when this viral DNA may end up in our bodies through our consumption, can the government still allow the biotech companies to grow their lethal crops in this country?

In a recent development (Rome/Geneva, 8 March 2002) a Task Force of the WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission reached agreement on a final draft of "Principles for the risk analysis of foods derived from biotechnology," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced.

The Principles of this agreement will provide a framework for evaluating the safety and nutritional aspects of Genetically Modified (GM) foods. They define the need for a pre-market safety assessment of all such foods on a case-by-case basis. According to the UN agencies, the assessment should look into both intended and unintended effects, identifying any new or altered hazards and identifying changes, relevant to human health, especially in regard to key nutrients and potential allergenic components.

Both the UK and US Governments have recognized that there are hazards involved with GM crops. In its time the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) admitted that the transfer of GM crops and pollen beyond the planted fields is unavoidable. This has already resulted in herbicide-tolerant weeds and has extended to organic, farms yet the tests are still allowed carry on. In an interim report on these field trials, the UK Government confirmed that hybridisation between adjacent plots of different herbicide tolerant GM oilseed rape varieties, gave rise to hybrids tolerant to multiple herbicides. In addition, GM oilseed rape and their hybrids were found as volunteers in subsequent wheat and barley crops, which had to be controlled by standard herbicides. Bt-resistant insect pests have evolved in response to the continuous presence of the toxins in GM plants throughout the growing season, and the US Environment Protection Agency is recommending farmers to plant up to 40% non-GM crops in order to create refugia for non-resistant insect pests (4)

Does this not show that even a US Government department has acknowledged that GM crops are damaging the environment, this is OK for the United States but, lets not forget that they are now exporting GM food to the third world as food aid. Should they not be complying with Codex and carrying out a full safety risk assessment, which should be published?

The United States consumer is now becoming wise to the damage that can be caused by GM crops to both Health and the Environment. In particular, the Colorado Genetic Engineering Action Network (COGEAN) who is one of the leading groups fighting to have GM food production slowed while more research is carried out on the safety aspects.

One area that has not been broached by the Biotech companies is that following the release of a crop that is able to withstand certain pesticides; this could result in farmers increasing the use of those same pesticides in order to eliminate weeds etc. This in itself will result in an increased risk of the pesticide being absorbed into the crop.

Lets not forget in 1994, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of Monsanto's controversial GE recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) which was injected into dairy cows to force them to produce more milk. This even though scientists warned that significantly higher levels (400-500% or more) of a potent chemical hormone, Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1), in the milk and dairy products of injected cows, could pose serious hazards for human breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

Not wishing to be a scaremonger but have not the Department of Health in the UK approved the import of blood from the US for young children. If within the US consumers are drinking milk from cattle that are being injected with this hormone, are we not risking the lives of our children by giving them blood transfusions, which could theoretically carry this hormone? The reasons we are importing this blood is to prevent spreading BSE to these children, however is the risk of passing on potentially cancerous hormones more likely. The UK government should if they are serious about protecting the British people, insist that all blood be tested and a full Safety Assessment has been carried out in order to verify that IGF-1 does not exist and then the findings should be published.

Unless of course have they something to hide

In 1998, Monsanto/FDA documents were released by government scientists in Canada, showing damage to laboratory rats fed dosages of rBGH hormone. Significant infiltration of rBGH into the prostate of the rats as well as thyroid cysts indicated potential cancer hazards from the drug. Subsequently the government of Canada banned rBGH in early 1999. The European Union has had a ban in place since 1994. Although rBGH continues to be injected into 4-5% of all US dairy cows, no other industrialized country has legalized its use. Even the Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations food standards body, has refused to certify that rBGH is safe. (5) Therefore, why is it still being used?

Let us not forget, it is not only in agriculture where harm is being done; the bio-medical sector has been hit by evidence that certain GE drugs are causing problems for some patients. One such drug is Eprex made by Johnson & Johnson and sold only outside the United States is widely believed to be responsible for 141 cases of red cell aplasia, in which the body is unable to produce red blood cells, making some patients dependent on transfusions to survive. The body treats those proteins as foreign and mount immune reactions against them, probably because they have been made in GM bacteria and do not have the correct processing or folding. (6) Why is Eprex not been sold in the United States?

Friends of the Earth stated, "Food and farming in the UK faces a stark choice. Do we continue to put profits first? Alternatively, do we adopt practices that safeguard the future of what we eat - and those who provide it"?

I Say

"We should all pay attention to, and think about what we are eating and how it is produced not just in this country but also worldwide. Otherwise, the food on our tables will be controlled by a hand full of companies who will be making huge profits, poisoning us the consumer and destroying the countryside. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when he says he will support organic farming should stick to his promise, in order to
prevent biotech firms taking over"

(1) Hansard Debates text for Wednesday 29 Mar 2000
(2) Speech 6 March 2001 'Environment: the next steps' By the Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, Chatham House, London
(3) Genetically Engineered Food - Safety Problems Published by PSRAST
(5) Colorado Genetic Engineering Action Network

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