| OCT. 14, 2002,
News: More than 300 European farmer, environmental
and consumer organizations, representing millions of people,
took their concerns about genetically contaminated seed
to Luxembourg today, where European Union agriculture
ministers were meeting for more discussions about proposed
legislation on the labeling and traceability of genetically
engineered foods. Environment ministers will take up the
issue on Thursday, October 17.
The Save Our Seeds initiative delivered a petition
to Franz Fischler, agriculture commissioner, and to
David Byrne, who oversees consumer protection. It calls
for changes in the proposed Seed Directive, which, as
currently written, would permit organic and conventional
seed to contain more genetically modified content without
being labeled as transgenic than is now the case. The
current proposal would allow the following PCR genetic
testing thresholds on seed:
- up to 0.3 percent for oilseed rape;
- 0.5 percent for corn, beet, potato, tomato and cotton;
- and 0.7 percent for soybeans.
Unless the draft Directive is changed to today's standard,
0.1 percent for all seed, farmers could unwittingly
grow millions of corn and oilseed rape plants with transgenic
characteristics, according to Save Our Seeds. Those
would then cross-pollinate with other conventional and
organic varieties, thus spreading contamination throughout
European fields and into the food supply.
That would make a mockery of the European Parliament's
draft legislation mandating a label on any food if genetically
modified organisms compose more than 0.5 percent of
its ingredients, says Benedikt Haerlin, director of
the Save Our Seeds initiative.
Luxembourg dairy farmer Aloyse Marx agrees.
"Consumers in Europe want no GMOs (genetically
modified organisms), so farmers have to do their part
to ensure that the food contains none of it," says
Marx, whose 40 cows, raised on corn, grass and wheat,
produce about 84,000 gallons of milk per year. "If
the seeds we buy contain GMOs, we can't give consumers
Marx also favors changing the Seed Directive language
so that the current 0.1 percent standard (technical
zero, the detection limit for PCR testing) becomes law.
Companies have been meeting this threshold for the past
four years, during which time the EU has a maintained
a moratorium on any new bioengineered foods.
It's been more than just common in Austria. Technical
zero on seed contamination has been the law there since
the beginning of this year, and seed giant Pioneer Hi-Bred
has been complying with it. The manager of Pioneer's
Austrian unit wrote in a March 2002 letter to the Voralberg
state government that the company tests all of its corn
seed batches for contamination and certifies the negative
But it's all a question of scale, says a spokesman for
Pioneer in Brussels. To meet that standard for corn
on no more than 250,000 acres in Austria is one thing,
but to duplicate that across the continent would be
Not according to data from Save Our Seeds. Oilseed rape
is grown on more than 7 million acres and corn on more
than 11 million acres of EU ground.
But such success will end unless the 0.1 percent threshold
is codified. The "EU Commission would give the
genetic engineering companies a license to contaminate
European agriculture even as this industry has failed
miserably to convince anybody about their products,"
says Haerlin of Save Our Seeds (http://www.saveourseeds.org).
"This is a slap in the face of the seventy percent
of European consumers and similar majority of farmers
who reject GMOs in their food and in their seeds. It
would cost farmers, food processors and retailers millions
of Euro just to serve the interests of a few transnational
If the responsibility for testing seed were shifted
to farmers, dairyman Marx says he would have to pay
the equivalent of about $1,000 per batch of seed. "It's
expensive and it would not be advantageous to me."
In the United States, organic grower David Vetter urges
the European politicians to maintain the allowable limits
for transgenic contamination of seed as low as possible.
For him, the main issue is farmers being able to keep
control over their seed stocks.
"If you raise the tolerances, you open the door
to progressively higher levels of contamination,"
Vetter says. "This could shift more liability to
farmers because they would have to test for it. Biotech
companies would have more control because they have
patent rights on the transgenic seed."
Haerlin says that Commissioner Fischler was receptive
to the seed petition: "He said he wants to discuss
this with the Parliament and that contamination with
GMOs was a real problem for small farmers."
No spokespeople from the offices of Fischler or Byrne,
or from Monsanto could be reached for comment.