GE Contamination in Spain: a warning to the rest of the world

Feature story - April 4, 2006
Spain’s rapid utilization of Genetically Engineered crops should serve as warning to the rest of the world about the dangers of GE production.

Corn grenade: the winning image from the Greenpeace Seeds of Trouble competition

The spiralling uptake of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops in Spain should serve as a warning to the rest of the world about the dangers of GE production, especially in countries like the Philippines where the government's pro-active GMO commercialization policy alongside the absence of clear-cut monitoring and regulatory mechanisms for GE crops has made genetic contamination an alarming reality.

In a new Greenpeace report entitled 'Impossible Coexistence' and released in Vienna today, environmentalists (1) show how GE crops in Spain - the only EU country that grows Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on a large scale - cause massive genetic contamination, threaten the livelihood of farmers and undermine agricultural biodiversity and consumer choice.

"This report clearly shows that despite guarantees by governments that GE production guidelines and controls would ensure safety, and farmers and consumer choice, the reality has been the opposite," said Greenpeace International campaigner Geert Ritsema from Vienna where a major European Commission conference on coexistence begins today.

"This is the case not only in Spain, but in other parts of the world like the Philippines," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE Campaigner Daniel Ocampo. "Island provinces such as Oriental Mindoro whose main agricultural development plan toward sustainable and organic farming are being undermined by GE contamination, specifically from Monsanto's Bt corn which is actually banned in the province."

In Spain, testimonials from farmers demonstrate that the unabated growth of the GE industry now represents the single largest threat to farmers' livelihoods, especially in the regions Aragón and Catalonia where GE crops are mainly cultivated.

'Impossible Coexistence' written in cooperation with Spanish farmer organisation Assemblea Pagesa and civil society group Plataforma Trangènics Fora!, is based on thorough research including laboratory tests of samples taken from the maize fields of 40 Spanish organic and conventional farmers, documents the following:

- In almost a quarter of the investigated cases unintended and unwanted presence of GE maize was found in the maize fields of non GE farmers. The GE contamination was as high as 12.6 %;

- In several cases the affected farmers suffered economic losses, as they were not able anymore to sell the contaminated maize at a premium market value.

- Three of the contamination cases involved local maize varieties which, after years of careful selection, can no longer be used for future plantings; These cases show how GE contamination is a threat to biodiversity and to the few local varieties that are still in the hands of farmers;

"The lack of GE regulation in Spain is a slap in the face to organic and conventional farmers who have put blood, sweat and tears into their businesses and now find the interests of big agro-biotech firms like Syngenta and Monsanto not only being placed above those of local communities' but ultimately damaging their livelihoods," said Mr Antonio Ruiz, president of the Organic Farming Committee of Aragón, who attended the report's press conference.

Greenpeace is calling on the Spanish authorities to immediately suspend the cultivation of GMOs in Spain. It is also calling on EU ministers and the European Commission to prevent the cultivation of GE crops in other EU countries.

"The Spanish experience demonstrates that GE and non-GE co-existence is a fallacy," said Ritsema, "European Ministers attending this week's meeting, as well as other governments in the rest of the world where GE crops are planted, should seriously consider whether they wish this upon farmers and consumers."

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions essential to a green and peaceful future.

For further information:

Danny Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE Campaigner, +63 917 897 6416

Geert Ritsema, Greenpeace International GE Campaigner, +31 646 197 328

Suzette Jackson, Greenpeace International Communications Officer +31 646 197 324

(1) The report, which was written by Greenpeace in cooperation with farmer organisation Assemblea Pagesa and civil society group Plataforma Trangènics Fora!, was launched today at the opening of a major European Commission conference attended by EU ministers in Vienna. The conference will discuss the EU's future policy on "coexistence" and determine if GE and Non GE crops can be grown together. Impossible Coexistence: Seven years of GMOs have contaminated organic and conventional maize: an examination of the cases of Catalonia and Aragon, is available for download at: www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/impossible-coexistence

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