Italian seeds contaminated with GE maize

Scandal highlights loopholes in new European legislation

Feature story - 10 July, 2003
Over 100 farmers in Northern Italy have discovered that non-genetically engineered (GE) maize seeds that they bought and planted, were in fact contaminated by GE maize. The fact that cases like this are happening on a regular basis, raises serious questions - such as how are the seeds getting contaminated in the first place? Is it part of a deliberate strategy by companies selling GE seeds?

Greenpeace marks a maize field with signs showing corn with a 'question mark' indicating that 1 in 200 maize crops can be genetically contaminated if the draft EU seed directive is passed .

The 400 hectares of GE contaminated maize will soon flower, so government officials and farmers leaders in the Piemonte region are meeting to work out what to do with the maize to stop further contamination.

The contamination came to light after routine seed tests by the Italian authorities - unfortunately conducted after the seeds had been planted. Although the exact details of what happened have yet to be made public, local reports and previous experience suggest that GE varieties produced by Monsanto may be the source of the contamination. Farmers reportedly bought the seeds from the company Pioneer Seeds that not only sells conventional non-GE seeds, but also acts as a sales agent for Monsanto's GE seeds in many countries.

A full investigation must be conducted not only of the contamination in Piemonte, but of what appears to be Monsanto's policy of deliberate contamination of non-GE seeds and farming.

Greenpeace spokesperson Federica Ferrario ask "With such cases happening on a regular basis the question has to be asked whether this is gross negligence or whether contamination of conventional seeds is part of a deliberate strategy of companies who sell GE seeds. In either case, legislation and legal action are required to make those responsible pay for the costs associated with their contamination and to prevent more such contamination in the future."

Coming less than one week after new EU legislation on labelling and traceability of GE food and animal feed, this case highlights two of the major loopholes still existing in European legislation and already acknowledged by many EU governments.

"It is one thing to have good labelling laws in place which make sure food products and animal feed are labelled if they do contain GE ingredients, but if Monsanto and its sales agents such as Pioneer Seeds are allowed to continually contaminate normal non-GE seeds, then that will make an absolute nonsense of the new legislation because it will entirely deny any choice for farmers or for consumers", added Ferrario.

Legislation is urgently needed to prevent seed contamination and ensure strict liability for the GE company responsible when contamination does occur.