Biotech industry impunity fuels global GE contamination spread

Press release - 28 February, 2008
Biotech companies are acting with impunity as cases of genetic engineering (1) contamination continue on a global scale, a new report launched today reveals.

Greenpeace activists protest on a barge containing contaminated illegal GM rice shipped from the US in the harbour of Rotterdam. The environmental organisation released a report today, which reveals systematic contamination of food, feed and seeds with GMOs on a global scale. In 2007, 20 cases of contaminated rice were reported. Rice is a staple food for 2.5 billion people around the globe. Greenpeace demands that the EU blocks imports of long-grain rice from the US, until the authorities have the GM contamination problem under control.

GM Contamination Register Report 2007, by Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK, details 39 new instances of crop contamination in 23 countries over the past year. Most of the contamination involved such staple crops as rice and maize, but also included soy, cotton, canola, papaya and fish. Since 2005, the GM Contamination Register has recorded 216 contamination events in 57 countries since GE crops were first grown commercially on a large scale in 1996.

This year's annual report on the Register is released on the same day a GE scandal in Kenya is exposed as Kenyan environmental and farmers' organisations confront the government and United States seed giant Pioneer Hi-Bred with evidence of GE-contaminated maize seed in their country, and Greenpeace activists in the Netherlands protest shipments of illegal GE-rice varieties to Rotterdam.

"The contamination documented in the report is just the tip of the iceberg. Genetic polluters must pay. If a company contaminates our food and our environment, it must pay for the clean-up, compensate farmers, traders and consumers. We need international liability standards under the Biosafety Protocol to hold biotech companies to account (2)," Greenpeace International agriculture campaigner Dr Doreen Stabinsky stressed.

In Kenya, Greenpeace, in cooperation with local organisations, commissioned independent tests of maize seed varieties sold commercially. Pioneer's seed maize PHB 30V53 was found to contain MON 810, a GE variety which has no approval for planting in Kenya and is banned in several European countries (3).

In the Netherlands, rice shipped from the US to Rotterdam (4) was found to be contaminated with GE varieties not permitted for consumption outside of the US. Greenpeace Netherlands' genetic engineering campaigner Marietta Harjono says Rotterdam harbour is one of the world's biggest "GE contamination hotspots", due to its role as first port of entry for much of the GE contaminated foodstuffs that enter Europe from the US.  

"Ongoing GE contamination in the world's major food crops, particularly in rice and maize, shows genetic engineering companies are failing to keep control of their artificial genes. Without decisive government action, the world's food and seed supplies will be under threat," Stabinsky warned.

Other contacts: Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Media Relations Specialist Tel: +44 (0) 7717 802 891Dr Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International agriculture campaigner Tel: +1 207 276 5284

VVPR info: Franca Michienzi, Tel: + 31 629 00 11 62

Notes: 1) Genetic engineering (GE) is also known as genetic modification (GM) or genetically modified organisms (GMO).2) From 12-19 March, in Cartagena, Colombia, governments will continue to negotiate international rules on liability for damages caused by genetically engineered organisms. These negotiations take place under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Some developed countries such as the United States, Japan and New Zealand are opposing a global agreement on GE liability. The continuing threats to developing country agriculture posed by GE contamination, as evidenced by these latest contamination scandals, demonstrate the need for legally binding, global rules that ensure that polluters pay if anything goes wrong with GE.3) Greenpeace, in cooperation with several environmental and farmers’ organisations in Kenya, commissioned tests on 13 different seed varieties bought in seed stores across the country. The tests, conducted by an independent European laboratory, revealed Pioneer’s seed maize PHB 30V53, sold in the Eldoret region of Kenya, is contaminated with MON 810 maize, a genetically engineered variant that is insect resistant. The contaminated seeds were produced by the South African branch of Pioneer. The GE seeds have no approval for planting in Kenya. All other varieties from both local and international seed companies were not contaminated. In February 2008, the French government decided to ban the cultivation of Monsanto’s maize MON 810 due to environmental concerns. These include the impossibility to prevent the spread of GE maize, and the possibility of toxic effects on non-target organisms, such as earthworms. France, Austria, Greece, Hungary and Poland have banned the commercial growing of GE maize MON 810 on the basis of environmental and health concerns.4) Dutch authorities found illegal rice varieties in two shipments. Bayer’s rice variety LLRICE62 was found in a batch of long grain parboiled brown rice shipped by Riceland Foods and Bayer LLRICE601 was found in a batch of long grain milled rice from shipper Riviana Foods. One of the shipments has since been returned to the US, the other remains at the port.