Today, GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace International are launching the first on-line register of genetically modified contamination incidents. The on-line, searchable web site gives details of all the known cases of GM contamination of food, feed, seed and wild plants that have taken place worldwide.
“No Government or international agency has established a public record of contamination incidents or other problems associated with GM crops. This register has been established because the official approach of ‘turning a blind eye’ is not good enough when dealing with a technology like GM where living organisms are released to the environment”, said Dr. Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK’s Director. “We hope this register will form an important resource for citizens and regulators in the future.”
Since their introduction in 1996, GM crops have contaminated food, feed, seed and the environment right across the globe. Over 60 incidents of illegal or unlabelled GM contamination have been documented in 27 countries on 5 continents, and those are only the recorded incidents. The register (which can be found at www.gmcontaminationregister.org) also gives links to more information about the incidents. Cases of illegal releases of GM organisms and negative agricultural side-effects are also included.
“This register is being launched when governments are meeting in Montreal to decide on liability regulations for GM crops. If states don’t act and set strict rules now, GM crops will further contaminate lands, seeds and food around the world” said Doreen Stabinsky, of Greenpeace International.
Highlights from the register:
27 countries have experienced a total of 63 cases of GM contamination of food, feed, seed or wild plants.
The largest number of contamination incidents have taken place in the USA (11 incidents).
Contamination from StarLink maize was found in 7 countries: USA, Canada, Egypt, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Japan and South Korea.
Illegal releases of GM crops into the environment or food chain have taken place in India (cotton), Brazil (cotton and soya), China (rice), Croatia (maize), Europe, Germany (papaya) and Thailand (cotton and papaya).
Six cases of negative agricultural side-effects have been recorded including deformed cotton bolls and the emergence of herbicide tolerant ‘super-weeds’.
For more information:
Dr. Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK +44 1298 871898
Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International +1 202 285 7398
Notes to editors:
Two maps of the contamination incidents are available on the web site:
Incidents of GM contamination, illegal releases and negative agricultural side-effects worldwide.
All the countries affected by a GM contamination incident are shown in this map produced using data from the register.
Since the first GM tomatoes were grown commercially in the USA in 1995, and followed by Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, there have been a range of different incidents of GM contamination and illegal plantings. This register has records of 63 incidents of contamination, 10 illegal releases and 6 negative agricultural side-effects (some incidents fall into more than one category). The map shows how they are distributed worldwide.
How StarLink contamination spread around the world
A new map shows how Starlink maize contamination has spread from the US.
In September 2000, sampling by a coalition of public interest groups in the US, showed that a variety of GM maize known as StarLink was present in taco shells being sold for human consumption even though it was not approved for this use and should only have been used for animal feed. The StarLink maize, produced by Aventis (now Bayer CropScience), is genetically modified to contain a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis coding for an insecticidal Bt toxin known as Cry9C. Unlike the Cry1A and Cry3A Bt toxins used in other GM crops, it is heat stable and does not break down in gastric acid – characteristics shared by many allergens.
Before the Starlink maize contamination was detected, it was exported from the US and has now been found in a whole range of countries as this map, produced using data from the register, illustrates.
2.Pressure groups release first international register of contamination mishaps as governments meet to discuss problem
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday June 1, 2005
The first register of GM contamination incidents across the world, which includes eight in Britain, is being published today as governments meet to discuss how to protect the environment from unauthorised releases.
Details of all known contamination of food, feed for animals, seed and wild plants since GM crops were introduced in 1996 are available on a website launched by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace. More than 60 incidents of illegal or unlabelled GM contamination have been documented in 27 countries. Cases of illegal releases of GM organisms and damaging side-effects such as the development of super-weeds are also included.
Governments are meeting in Montreal, Canada, to try to develop rules to allow all GM products to be traced so that if they were accidentally or deliberately released into the environment the extent of the contamination among non-GM plants or animals could be tracked. The second thorny issue governments are dealing with is liability – who pays when either the natural environment is damaged by the spread of GM genes or organic and conventional farmers lose markets through contamination. This is an issue on which the British government has so far failed to develop a policy.
Progress in these areas has been slow internationally and governments are anxious to complete work this week on the agreement called the Caragena protocol, part of the convention on biodiversity, to prevent further contamination incidents. The US and the large agribusinesses which market GM are anxious to avoid any liability for unauthorised releases.
Campaigners compiled the register to show the extent of the problem and put pressure on governments for action. Sue Mayer, the director of GeneWatch UK said “No government or international agency has established a public record of contamination incidents or other problems associated with GM crops. The official approach of turning a blind eye is not good enough when dealing with a technology like GM where living organisms are released into the environment.”
Campaigners believe that only strict rules with liability regulations applied by governments can stop the unauthorised spread of GM seeds and products. “If states do not act and set strict rules now GM crops will further contaminate lands, seeds and food around the world,” Doreen Stabinsky of Greenpeace International said yesterday
The worst single contamination incident was of StarLink Maize, a GM variety approved only for animal feed which entered the human food chain in seven countries, the US, Canada, Egypt, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Japan and South Korea.
The maize was found in taco shells, a popular snack, and had been genetically modified to produce an insecticidal toxin to protect the plant against boring insects. It does not break down in gastric acid, a characteristic shared by many substances which can cause an allergic reaction. Thousands of stores across the world were forced to withdraw products from sale because of the illegal contamination.
Other illegal releases into the environment or food chain include cotton in India, cotton and soya in Brazil, rice in China, maize in Croatia, papaya in Germany and cotton and papaya in Thailand.
Trial and error
There have been eight incidents of GM contamination in Britain
1. In September 2000, during the UK field trials of herbicide tolerant GM sugar beet, Aventis reported some plants did not die even when they were sprayed with a different herbicide designed to kill them. Investigations showed that some of the original seed was tolerate to two herbicides and this had probably happened as a result of cross-pollination during production of original seed in Germany.
2 Aventis (now Bayer) revealed in 2002 that oilseed rape used at 12 sites in the UK’s farm trials was contaminated with an unapproved GM variety. The seed had been used at a total of 25 British trials dating back to 1999.
3 The Food Standards Agency surveyed food and food ingredients in 2002 and found GM soybean in some products, including several labelled non-GM. None were above the 1% level requiring a GM label under EU law, but failure to segregate GM and non-GM crops was thought to be the cause.
4. Friends of the Earth tested 21 samples of food and three of animal feed in 1999 and found five contained GM material. Only one was labelled. The companies concerned changed their suppliers.
5. Routine tests by the Soil Association in 2002 of animal feed labelled organic found GM contamination even though GM is not permitted in organic products. The feed is believed to have come from Italy.
6. In 2001 trading standards officers in the Medway, Kent, sampled a range of foods and found low levels of contamination in 10% of the processed food sampled.
7. Ten samples out of 25 health and organic foods screened were found to contain GM soya at levels below 1%, above which there is a legal requirment to label them, but eight of those were wrongly labelled as non-GM or organic.
8. In May 2000 the government admitted that Advanta seeds had imported an oilseed rape variety called Hyola, which was contaminated with GM herbicide tolerant seed because of cross-pollination. The seed was sown on 4,700 hectares before the mistake was discovered. The company Advanta Seeds eventually paid compensation to farmers who were forced to plough up their crop because it was unsaleable.