| OCT. 14, 2002, CropChoice
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 that security."
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
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 nearly impossible.
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 [biotech] companies."
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.