What do oil and genetically engineered (GE) rice have in common? The ability to get multinationals in a whole lot of trouble, apparently. BP is battling the oil spill in the Gulf and desperately trying to employ some sort of brand damage control that will work – both efforts seem to be doing rather badly.

Bayer had a similar instance of corporate turmoil in 2006 when a variety of genetically engineered (GE) rice they were developing contaminated the US rice supply. Bayer are trying there damndest to avoid any comparison between the two – especially as both have affected communities in the same part of the US. Last week they asked the judge ruling on their contamination cases to ban any reference to the oil spill from the trial.

You might ask what Bayer is so worried about if they truly believe GE crops are safe. Surely there is no comparison between an oil leak which is killing wildlife and fouling beaches and a harmless rice variety escaping? Therein lies the problem – no one has proved conclusively that GE crops are safe, and not surprisingly, many people are not convinced they are. This is why Bayer is now in court – their contamination of the US rice supply led to up to US $ 1.285 billion in damage to various players in the US rice market, from amongst other things, lost markets. Markets throughout the world closed to US rice imports following the contamination. Soon Bayer will be back in court facing more angry farmers and representatives from the rice industry.

Bayer’s attempt to avoid mention of the oil spill is not their first attempt at influencing court proceedings. They reportedly have also tried to strike a juror from the jury because they were a “Greenpeace contributor”, and Greenpeace is opposed to GE crops. It’s a risky strategy; because as more and more of the repeated failures of GE crops become apparent they could find themselves rather stretched to find any jurors at all (assuming the court would be opposed to a jury full of Bayer employees of course!). Bayer seems pretty intent on following it though – along with their attempt to stop people mentioning the oil spill (maybe they think it will go away?) they also filed a motion to clarify that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are “vociferously” opposed to GE crops. Looks like the same problem here. Last time I checked there were a lot more than 2 organisations opposed to GE crops. In fact both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have many different campaigns - there are many organisations (and all their members) which campaign exclusively against GE crops.

One might say that both companies were asking for it. There are inherent risks both with drilling for oil deep under the sea, and with trialing genetically engineered plants in field tests. Bayer has even admitted this themselves, saying that “[e]ven the best [containment protocols] can’t guarantee perfection”. Instead of trying to limit damage from these environmental and economic disasters, we should be implementing permanent solutions. GE contamination? Ecological farming doesn’t pollute the environment with toxic chemicals or genetic engineering. Oil spills? Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution maps out a path to a renewable energy future.

Join Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Avaaz in calling for a moratorium on all GE crops in the EU. Demand a GE free future. We aim to collect 1 million signatures – is yours one yet? Sign the petition here.


Image © Greenpeace/Philip Reynaers