Syngenta sold wrong GE maize -- for four years

Unapproved, untested variety released by mistake

Feature story - 24 March, 2005
In an article published today in Nature magazine, Syngenta has admitted that they sold hundreds of tonnes of the wrong GE maize in the US over the past four years.

GM maize: a dangerous experiment

Syngenta distributed an unauthorised insect resistant maize Bt10,instead of the GE maize Bt11, which is approved in a number ofcountries around the world. The discovery happened late in 2004, butinstead of informing farmers and consumers straight away, Syngentaentered into secret talks with the US government over how they shouldtell the public.

According to article in Nature, US regulators only consideredwhether the Bt10 maize was safe for human consumption in late 2004,after the contamination was reported to the US government. This meansthat for four years, consumers eating products containing GE corn maywell have eaten some Bt10 - completely untested for environmental orfood safety. Even now, it's not clear what food safety testing, if any,was actually done on Bt10.

"This is the latest in a long series of contamination events anddemonstrates once again that GE crops can't be controlled, even by thecompanies that develop them" said Doreen Stabinsky, GE campaigner. "Thelong time that this contamination took to be discovered shows the lackof adequate checks made by the industry and the complete absence ofadequate controls by the US government. Even more worrying is thesecrecy and delay in making this known to the public, who are theunwitting consumers of GE products with no safety testing."

This unauthorized strain of GE maize could have been grown inseveral other countries, such as Argentina, South Africa and Uruguay,where Bt11 is approved for cultivation. Syngenta has until now refusedto reveal what other countries may have received contaminated seed.Equally unknown are the countries that unwittingly received exports ofthe unapproved maize from the United States, the volume of contaminatedmaize that might have been exported, and the extent of contamination inmanufactured food products.

The illegal GE corn could be in many products worldwide, and henceall products that may contain Bt10 maize should be taken from shopshelves and all fields growing GE maize that may be contaminated withBt10 should be destroyed, with compensation provided to farmers.

Stabinsky stated "The US government'srole in this GE contamination cannot be overlooked. Whilst trying toforce countries worldwide to accept GMOs they continue to preside overcase after case of illegal and dangerous GE contamination. When this isthe model of GMO regulation that the US is trying to force upon othercountries - by its WTO case against the EU and by its constantinterference in the Biosafety Protocol negotiations - then the USGovernment should not be surprised when the reaction of the rest of theworld is to tell them to get their own house in order, and to stopspreading genetic contamination all over the planet."

Update:

15 April:  EU bans types of contaminated US maize feed containing unauthorised GE genes. More from our EU unit website.

18 April:  Despite ban GMO corn gluten feed from US unloaded in Rotterdam harbour.