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2-Plants: GE pollution in Spanish maize and soya revealed

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TITLE:  Transgene pollution confirmed in the Navarre region of the Basque
        Country, Spain
SOURCE: EHNE - Basque Family Farmer Association, Spain
DATE:   May 15, 2002

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Transgene pollution confirmed in the Navarre region of the Basque Country, 

Traces of transgenia have been identified in three cereal crops in the 
Navarre region of the Basque Country, Spain. The three crops, two maize and 
one of soya, were carefully analysed in two independent laboratories given 
that they were organically grown, and the Navarre Organic Agriculture 
Council closely monitors such crops to avoid any transgene pollution of the 
organic food chain.

Further tests on one of the maize crops has revealed that the polluting 
agent was the Bt176 event, better known as the Compa CB variety of 
genetically modified maize, currently cultivated in the area. This maize 
was commercialized by the Swiss company Novartis, currently known as 
Syngenta following a fusion with Astra-Zeneca of the UK.

This clear case of pollution confirms some of farmers' and consumers' worst 
fears. In this case the organically grown maize has been withdrawn from the 
organic food chain and can only be sold as conventional, a first economic 
drawback for the farmer concerned. However, it is very likely that many 
other maize crops in the area, known as "conventional" given that they are 
neither organic nor transgene, are very probably polluted but insufficient 
testing and controls are allowing them to slip undetected into the food 
chain. Farmers are losing their right to choose the sort of crops they 
grow, as if they choose organic or conventional maize it is increasingly 
likely to be polluted by transgene maize. Consumers are losing the right to 
choose the sort of food they wish to buy as sources of non GMO food are 
being polluted.

A group of concerns has reported this case to the mass media. The local 
farmers' union, EHNE, the local organic farmers' association, Biolur, the 
local organic consumers' association, Landare, and a local organic producer 
cooperative, Trigo Limpio jointly stressed the worrying aspects of this 
case, particularly the lack of control and future difficulties for non-
transgene food production and consumption (whether conventional or 
organic). They demand maintenance of the actual moratoria on authorisation 
of new GMO crops and an end to cultivation of Bt maize in the Spanish State 
given the serious problems it is causing.

The fact that data and incidents concerning the use of this Bt maize in 
Navarre clearly pointed to the strong possibility of such pollution 
occurring, plus the fact that the competent authorities took no measures to 
avoid it has furthered anger amongst farmers. For example:

The official farm research institution of Navarre (ITG-A) recently 
disclosed results of test crops with Bt maize, results which stressed no 
clear advantages of using Bt maize and, in fact, advising farmers not to 
cultivate it. In March 2000 the local farmers' union, EHNE, clearly warned 
of the possible danger of transgene pollution if the Bt maize be used in 
Navarre, in a special Navarre Parliamentary Committee session celebrated on 
GMO farm and food issues, quoting, in fact, a genetic engineering industry 
report itself that admitted such pollution were possible. In the same 
parliamentary session, EHNE also warned of the lack of control on the use 
of GMO crops in Navarre, as according to the Order authorising it's use in 
Spain Novartis should inform the Spanish Ministry of Farming the names and 
localities of buyers of its GMO seed and yet farmers' were able to buy it 
without giving either their name or address. Additionaly, EHNE interviewed 
farmers who had used Bt maize and, despite the clear indication of the 
Order authorising the Bt maize for a Plan of Control and technical visits 
to farms cultivating Bt maize, the farmers interviewed by EHNE received no 
such visits. Thirdly, the farmers had not been informed of the need to 
leave a given part of their fields sown with GMO maize under conventional 
crops, nor had they left any margin between their crops and neighbouring 
fields to try and prevent cross-pollinization. EHNE thus stressed the lack 
of control over Bt maize in Navarre and yet no measures were taken to 
correct the situation.

The farmer and consumer groups that reported this current case of pollution 
have also stressed that it is inadmissible that those farmers and consumers 
who do not wish to consume GMO food are paying extra costs in order to 
guarantee GMO free food. In this case two technological costs have been 
paid by the farmers' organisations, given that the results on this maiz 
crop in concrete, were double tested in two independent laboratories, one 
in the Navarre region and one in the south of the Spanish State. Each test 
for GMO traces costs EUR 162, and a further EUR 54 is paid to identify each 
possible pollutant. Thus regards maize a farmer or his organization could 
pay upto EUR 540 to find out which of the authorised or unauthorised GMO 
maize varieties has polluted his/her crop.

Lastly, the local farmers' union EHNE has stressed that the legislation in 
force regards the use of genetically modified crops makes it tremendously 
difficult if not impossible for a farmer to claim compensation should his/
her crops be polluted by genetically modified plants. EHNE has spent over a 
decade campaigning in favour of suitable legislation that would make the 
promoters of GMO technology solely and obligatorily responsible for any 
damage their crops cause, whether environmental, economic or in terms of 
health. This new case of transgene pollution clearly reveals the 
ineffectiveness of both the existing and proposed new legislation on 
liability for the population at large, whilst it clearly conveniently 
enables GMO tecnology promoters to wash their hands of any responsibility. 
Given that the European Union is currently considering new legislation, 
this sort of case of pollution should influence their decision making 
process and the sort of legislation the Commission and MEPs eventually 

For more information please contact:

Helen Groome
P: 0034946107007


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