Worldwide Register of Genetic Contamination Introduced

LONDON, UK, June 1, 2005 (ENS) - Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK today opened the world's first online register that lists incidents of genetic contamination with engineered organisms. The searchable website details all the known cases of genetic contamination of food, animal feed, seeds and wild plants that have taken place worldwide.

Timed to coincide with the ongoing meeting of Parties to the Biosafety Protocol now considering rules to guide international trade in genetically modified organisms, the new register shows that 27 countries have experienced genetic contamination of food, animal feed, seeds or wild plants.

"This register is being launched at the moment when governments are meeting in Montreal to decide on international liability regulations for GM crops," said Greenpeace campaigner Doreen Stabinsky. "The sheer number of contamination incidents collected in the register to date makes it clear that unless states take action to set strict rules now, GM crops will further spiral out of control."

The register lists a total of 62 cases where genetically modified organisms either contaminated other plants or failed to perform according to the manufacturers' promises. The largest number of these, 11 incidents, have taken place in the United States, which is the country where most genetically modified crops are grown.

Some incidents listed are cases of contamination, such as the protein from genetically modified Starlink maize that has been found in seven countries - Canada, Bolivia, Egypt, Japan, Nicaragua, South Korea, and the United States.

corn

Starlink genetically modified corn (Photo courtesy USDA)
In 2000, StarLink maize, or corn, was discovered in taco shells being sold for human consumption even though it was approved only for animal feed. There are concerns that its Cry9C gene sequences could be a human allergen.

The manufacturer, Aventis, was forced to remove StarLink from sale and a formal recall order was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for all 350,000 acres of StarLink corn planted across the United States in 2000. Although the U.S. government has purchased over $13 million of Starlink seed since then, the Cry9C gene sequences were still being detected in seed in 2003, possibly because contaminated seed has been used in hybrid seed production.

Other incidents in the new register are cases of failure to perform. In 1997, 54 farmers in Mississippi sought compensation when Monsanto cotton genetically modified for tolerance to the Monsanto herbicide Roundup failed to grow properly. Bolls were deformed and some fell off prematurely.

The Arbitration Council, which moderates between farmers and seed companies, ruled that the Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton failed to perform as advertised and recommended payments of nearly $2 million to the three farmers who had not settled out of court.

In Canada, the register lists the first evidence of genetic contamination of a wild relative as a result of commercial growing of a genetically modified crop. A herbicide tolerance gene from genetically modified oilseed rape, Brassica napus, was found in wild turnip in 2003.

While the register documents discoveries of contamination reported by a wide variety of government and academic sources, Greenpeace claims at least one discovery of contamination.

In April, Greenpeace found that genetically modified rice, unapproved for human consumption, has been planted and sold illegally in China for the past two years. Investigations found samples of rice seed as well as unmilled and milled rice containing transgenic strains.

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Hybrid rice in China cultivated for its numerous grains. There is concern that genetically modified rice will contaminate other rice varieties. (Photo courtesy FAO)
An independent testing laboratory confirmed the presence of transgenic DNA in 19 samples. Two of the samples tested positive for the Bt protein indicating they were Bt rice - a form which has been genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide.

Although genetically modified crops were grown on over 80 million hectares (197.7 million acres) worldwide in 2004, there is no global monitoring system.

"No government or international agency has yet established a public record of contamination incidents or of other problems associated with GM crops," said Dr. Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK.

GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment.

"Turning a blind eye is not good enough when dealing with a technology like GM because it involves the uncontrolled release of living organisms into the environment," Mayer said. "We hope this register will form an important resource for citizens and regulators in the future."

The register is found online at: www.gmcontaminationregister.org