Greenpeacers against biotech foods chain up to Bayer India

MUMBAI, India, October 1, 2004 (ENS): Six Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the Mumbai headquarters of Bayer Crop Science Thursday, displaying banners with the words "Bayer poisons our food." The activists were demonstrating to draw attention to genetically engineered crop trials conducted by the company on popular food crops including cabbage and cauliflower.

"The Department of Biotechnology has disclosed that Pro Agro, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer, has conducted field trials of cabbage and cauliflower genetically modified with the controversial Cry9C gene," said Divya Raghunandan, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace India.

"Considering the high risks to human health associated with this particular gene, Greenpeace is concerned about the implications for consumers, including the farmers that will grow these crops, and we are demanding that the company stop all research using the Cry9C gene and makes all information related to these field trials open to public scrutiny."

After 11 hours in chains, the activists unchained themselves after securing a written statement of the company’s stand, an appointment with company officials for October 6, and an assurance that their questions would be answered.

The official response from Bayer first states that it "has never done trials involving Cry9C” and then states, “These trials were conducted in a contained environment and were harvested well before flowering.”

Although the activists ended their protest, they did so only after unfurling another banner stating "Bayer is a Liar," in response to the company's statement.

“The apathy and indifference of this company is unbelievable!” said Raghunandan. “They took 11 hours to eventually respond with half-truths and a logically inconsistent statement. This statement only vindicates our stand that we are dealing with an irresponsible corporation with many skeletons to hide.”

The Cry9C gene protein is a suspected human allergen. The United States Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged this risk and refused to certify a version of corn genetically modified with this gene as fit for human consumption.

Cry9C modified corn, owned by a subsidiary of Bayer Crop Science, Aventis, was marketed in the United States under the brand name StarLink for animal feed and industrial purposes. In September 2000, StarLink was found in corn taco shells and other human foods, and some 300 corn products had to be withdrawn from the market.

Greenpeace India is demanding that Bayer answers critical questions on their genetic field trials. The activists want to know why Bayer is using the same gene implicated in the Starlink to feed people in India.

They want Bayer to state what bio-safety and health safety assessments, if any, have been conducted and what were the results.

And the activists want Bayer to tell them what the company did with the genetically modified plants, seeds and produce from these field trials. "How can they assure us that these have not already entered the food chain?" the Greenpeacers ask.

Greenpeace says it became alarmed about Cry9C in March 2003, when a food aid shipment from two U.S. based aid agencies - CARE and Catholic Relief Services - was suspected of being contaminated with StarLink corn.

Responding to the warnings issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research, and an alert sounded by concerned organizations, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee took a stand against the shipment, and demanded that the United States and the aid agencies provide certification for each consignment of corn-soya blend stating that it did not contain StarLink.

Since none of the agencies were willing to certify this, the entire shipment was rejected.

Cry9C is one of a family of crystalline (Cry) endotoxin proteins produced by Bacillusthuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring soil bacterium. The Cry endotoxin disrupts the digestive systems of pests attacking genetically modified crops and kills them. Unlike other Cry proteins, Cry9C is heat-stable and also resistant to degradation in gastric juices.

Bayer is one of the leading agro-chemical companies of the world, holding 22 percent of the market share in the Indian pesticides industry with 52 products.

"Bayer is the undisputed leader in the crop protection business in India," the company says. The company has biotech laboratories in Gurgaon and Hyderabad where genetic markers, DNA finger printers and other tested techniques are used to provide support to the company’s plant breeding efforts.

Proagro has established seed production centers in four states and plans to develop production centers in other states as well, the company says.

Bayer prides itself on its reputation as a sustainable company. "At Bayer, sustainability is an integral part of corporate policy, with economy, ecology and social responsibility being accorded equal importance in all of the company’s activities worldwide," the company stated on September 20, to mark its selection to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the sixth straight year.

Greenpeace is not impressed. “Bayer is a repeat offender as far as poisoning our food goes,” said Doreen Stabinsky, a scientific advisor with Greenpeace International.

“Greenpeace has already exposed their double standards with relation to the production and sale of Class I pesticides that they have discontinued in their home country," said Stabinsky. "Bayer is again trying to poison Indians, by using a gene that’s been shown to be unsafe in the rest of the world and banned in the U.S. for human consumption."

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