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Friends of the Earth Europe press release 28.04.99

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28th April 1999
For immediate distribution

Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has revealed that an unauthorized variety of
genetically modified (GM) maize might be being sown in countries of the
European Union (EU) this year as a result of contamination of sacks of
conventional seed.  The maize seeds marketed by the company Pioneer Hi-Bred
and sold under the brand name "Benicia" have been found to be contaminated
with a GM variety.  This is happening, says FoE, when no varieties of
Pioneer GM maize have been approved for cultivation in the EU.  An
insect-resistant maize produced by Pioneer, under licence from Monsanto,
has been in the pipeline for approval by the EU since 1996 but is not yet
authorized (1).

The illegal maize was discovered by the BUND/FoE office in Freiburg,
Germany, which handed samples of the Pioneer maize over to the police for
testing by the official control agency.  Preliminary analyses revealed that
the sacks of maize seed were contaminated at a level of 0.1% by a
genetically modified variety.  Further tests are being carried out to
determine what kind of genetic modification is involved and results are
expected by the end of this week.

Some of the seed is now being recalled : one French distributor Gustave
Muller SA has admitted that it is "suspect" and is exchanging it for sacks
of seed of European origin.  What is worrying, says Friends of the Earth,
is that no-one knows how much of the illegal seed has already been sown in
Europe this spring.  France Nature Environnement (FNE) has already alerted
the French authorities (DDAF)(2)  who admitted they are concerned but
ill-equipped to carry out an investigation.

The placing on the market of seeds contaminated with DNA molecules
originating from unauthorized transgenic plants is illegal under the EU's
directive on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms(3). 
Although the contamination may have been caused by a so-called « natural
process », such as cross-pollination, the contaminated seed would be still
be considered as a GMO under the EU Directive, and any cultivation of an
unauthorized variety would be illegal.

Friends of the Earth is calling upon acting EU Environment Commissioner
Bjerregaard to take action against Member States which do not prevent seed
companies and retailers from placing contaminated illegal seeds on the

(1)  Maize (MON 809) expressing the Bt cryIA(b) gene, some resistance to
glyphosate herbicides (e.g. Monsanto's RoundUp), and carrying a marker gene
expressing resistance to the antibiotic kanomycin.
(2)  DDAF : Direction Départementale de l'Agriculture et de la Forêt.
(3)  EU Directive 90/220/EEC regulating the deliberate release of
genetically modified organisms into the environment.

For more information, contact: 
Gill Lacroix, FoE Europe, T. 32-2-542.0182, F. 32-2-537.5596
Dan Leskien, FoE Europe, T. 49-40-431.897.66
Gustave Stahl, France Nature Environnement, T. 33-3-8942.1235

Gill Lacroix
Friends of the Earth Europe
Biotechnology Programme
"To say that this is not a highly political area seems to me extraordinary.
 To claim that GM products 'pose no risks' is absurd.  We know that there
are risks involved.  And if this was not a political issue, Monsanto and
others would not spend time and money cosying up to governments" (speech,
18.03.99 by David Bowe, MEP, rapporteur for the revision of Directive
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