ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network


Announcing the latest winner of the "PANTS ON  FIRE" award


AVENTIS...with pants on fire!!

AVENTIS: in your face, down your throat and up your nose!

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (ngin) is pleased to announce the latest winners of the "Pants on Fire" Award[1]: Franco-German Gene Giant AVENTIS.

The award has been made not just for the extreme dangerousness of their corporate activities but because of the extreme slipperiness of their corporate representatives.  This is evidenced by the amazing flexibility, stunning inconsistency, and ludicrous inaccuracy of many of their statements.

Extreme slipperiness: putting it about on a toilet seat!

Judith Jordan, Product Manager for AVENTIS asked, as a witness for the prosecution in the failed Greenpeace court case, whether a fifty meter buffer zone between GM and conventional crops was really sufficient to prevent cross-contamination, replied that pollution in those circumstances was as likely as getting pregnant from a toilet seat.

Judith has been far from alone at AVENTIS in her apparent certainty about the sheer impossibility of contamination.  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."

AVENTIS lose the rubber but win the pants!

Unfortunately for Paul and Judith, and their corporate chiefs, this particular probability condom has been proven to have a number of gaping holes in it - helping AVENTIS lose the rubber but win some prestigious pants!

- According to the National Pollen Research Unit viable maize pollen can travel at least 800 meters, ie 16 times further than the distance beyond which Jordan claimed under oath that the probability of cross-contamination was effectively zero.[3]

- Advanta (part owned by AVENTIS) have said that the oil-seed-rape seed scandal, which adversely affected so many farmers in the UK and elsewhere earlier this year, probably arose because of GM-contamination over a distance of 4 kms!

- Sugar beets genetically modified to resist an AVENTIS herbicide recently accidentally acquired genes resistant to another company’s herbicide, forcing AVENTIS to abort a number of GM field trials. The errant resistance gene crept into the beets in greenhouses. "If they can’t prevent it there, there is little chance they will avoid it in the field," commented Dr Brian Johnson of English Nature.[4]

Starburst: StarLink hits the fan!

Dr Rylott’s categorical assurances that the two will NOT get mixed up and  "Everybody will have the right to choose", will be of particular interest to those farmers, food companies and consumers in the US who are currently having to cope with what looks like multi-million-dollar fallout from the AVENTIS StarLink GM maize disaster.

This involves the unauthorized appearance of a potentially allergenic GM maize only approved for animal feed in the food supply, leading to 300 food items already having to be recalled from the shelves.  US officials are still having trouble locating about 1.2 million bushels of the GM maize from this year’s harvest. What’s really fowling up the clean up is cross-contamination of other maize - or as Jerry Herrick, an elevator manager in Iowa memorably put it, "the fox is out of the chicken coop already".[5]

Thus, as part of the attempted clean up, AVENTIS are involved in a desperate hunt for non-StarLink GM maize grown within a buffer zone considerably greater than 50m!

Federal officials have said AVENTIS are solely to blame for the failure to keep StarLink from being eaten by humans.[6]

As US farmers caught up in the StarLink fiasco rue the day they ever planted AVENTIS’ seed, they may like to ponder another of the statements of the seed manager at AVENTIS UK:

"I was across in America and looking at this technology in action and you actually saw some farmers with some real smiles on their faces again because they were actually being able to farm very productively once again....There was certainly one guy - we sort of said, you know, have you got any problems with biotechnology and he said yes, the only problem is I can’t get enough seed."[1]

In fact, it’s becoming clear that all seed-saving farmers need to do to be in receipt of more than sufficient AVENTIS seed is to plant their normal crops within a distance many times greater than fifty meters from one of the company’s crops.  As even greenhouses seem to offer no protection, perhaps heavy-duty condoms should be tightly applied to corn cobs for anyone wishing to avoid crop rejection.

Never mind the buffers, watch the mealie-mouthed deception!

Avoiding GM-contamination, is made somewhat trickier of course for non-GM farmers, beekeepers etc. if nobody actually bothers to inform you that GM crops are being grown on a neighbouring farm.

AVENTIS have cleverly managed to bring this about in the UK by not only not notifying certain of their trials but doggedly denying their existence. In one case when local vicar, Reverend Paul Cawthorne made enquiries about a secret GM forage maize trial in Shropshire, AVENTIS denied that such a site existed. It was only after months of further investigation that Paul Cawthorne finally established that he was not being told the truth and there was an AVENTIS GM crop site in the area.

AVENTIS also gave Revd Cawthorne the run-around about another secret crop trial.  Des D’Souza of AVENTIS personally assured Rev Cawthorne in a letter that there were no undisclosed trials involving the company’s maize seed taking place anywhere in the county.  This was a very deceptive answer as, strictly speaking, the seed in the AVENTIS crop trial counted as the property of Advanta (a company part-owned of course by AVENTIS!). [7]

While bald denials and mealie-mouthed deception are bad enough, ‘down-under’ the Australian GM ‘police’ are having to check out all the AVENTIS GM experimental canola sites after a whole series of problems including a refusal by AVENTIS to comply even with a 15-meter buffer zone![8]  On one occasion, banned AVENTIS GM plants even turned up dumped in a public tip![9]

In Brazil the regulators had to resort to burning the company’s transgenic rice because of their failure to take compulsory biosecurity measures[10] - something for which the company was also named and shamed in the UK.[11]

Meanwhile, AVENTIS’ tests of Chardon LL (a GM maize) appear not to comply with legal requirements in the UK, making the commercial release of Chardon LL (or any GMO seed) in the UK in the immediate future increasingly improbable.[12]

The AVENTIS ‘Spot the Difference’ competition

If further proof were needed that the representatives of AVENTIS will say anything, according to the occasion, why not try out this ‘Spot the Difference’ competition:

"I mean I have to take my hat off to them [Greenpeace], they are incredibly well organised and if we were that well organised life would be a lot easier, but unfortunately we’re not.  We’re just a company, I guess.... I guess, what we’re also saying is we’re only a small team."
-Dr Paul Rylott, Seed Manager, AVENTIS speaking on ‘Matter of Fact’, broadcast 12 October 2000, BBC2 Eastern Region.

"We have eight thousand employees around the world, 900 in the UK, and we have a turnover of one billion pounds and yes, we’re in it for the money."
-Des D’Souza, Biotech Communications Manager, 10 July 1999, Lyng public meeting, Lyng, Norfolk, speaking on behalf of AgrEvo before its merger with French agrochmemical giant Rhone-Poulenc turned it into a still more massive global corporation - AVENTIS!

Pimping for AVENTIS

AVENTIS’ standard PR strategy is to keep a low profile despite their massive corporate presence.  In fact, those engaged in promoting AVENTIS’ corporate interests go way beyond the company’s official payroll.

With the corporate largesse pouring into the research institutes, AVENTIS has no shortage of associates among the regulators, the crop trial scientists, and on the public funding body for the bio-sciences.

Is this whybeing reckless, arrogant, incompetent, or deceitful seem of little consequence to this corporate giant?  Foul-ups may count for little when your PR department takes in even the heart of government.

When in July 1999 a journalist from the Daily Express posed some tricky questions about proposed crop trials to the man from AVENTIS, Des D’Souza, he was staggered to have his call quickly returned by the Cabinet Office.  The tricky questions were happily fielded for AVENTIS by the spin unit at No. 10![13]

But then this is, after all, a Government caught out in illegality on at least 3 occasions over GM crops in ways that suited the Gene Giants.  And standing at the front of that queue is AVENTIS.[14]

AVENTIS: in your face, down your throat and up your nose!

Pants on Fire Chief, Jean de Bris, comments, ,  "AVENTIS certainly deserve these prestigious pants for the way they are playing fast and loose with both the global environment and the truth.  It seems they will say or do almost anything to spin their unwanted products down our throats."

He added, "The stench of scorched undergarments certainly captures the way this corporate giant is getting right up the public nose!"


[1] This Award is given for either wanton promotion of biotechnology,  organic food slander, and/or wild inaccuracy pertaining to either.  This is the second monthly Award.  The inaugural Award went to Sir John Krebs and the Food Standards Agency. Details at:
[2] ‘Matter of Fact’, BBC2 Eastern Region, broadcast 12 October 2000
[3]  R. Treu and J. Emberlin (2000), "Pollen dispersal ? Evidence from Publications", a report for the Soil Association from the National Pollen Research Unit. Available at
[4] New Scientist, October 21, 2000, This Week, Pg. 6, Stray genes highlight superweed danger
[5] New York Times October 25, 2000, Biotech Corn Traces Dilute Bumper Crop
[6]  Dow Jones Newswires, Federal Officials Blame Aventis For Biotech Corn Found in Food, October 27, 2000
[7] for more on the secret trials:
[8] GM police to check Aventis canola sites, Sidney Morning Herald, Date: 23/08/2000
[9] AAP, MELBOURNE, March 25 2000, Banned genetically modified plants dumped at tip
[10] When still AgrEvo: Gazeta Mercantil Online, 20/4/99, Genetically engineered rice set to burn
[11] When still AgrEvo: New Scientist, 4th April 1998, p.2.
[13]Daily Express, July 23, 1999 OUTRAGE OVER GM SPIN TEAM: Taxpayer funds propaganda unit as crop trials soar from 6 to 75
[14] In September 1999, for example, the Government and AVENTIS conceded that the consent given for Aventis’s GM winter oilseed rape trials was "unlawful."