1.Collusion and cover up
2.GM Maize scandal: authorities slammed for incompetence and complacency
1.Collusion and cover up - just who are they protecting?
The biggest importers of sweetcorn from the US, Japan and South Korea, both appear to be trying to take steps to shut off maize supplies contaminated by Syngenta's illegal unapproved Bt10 maize at the ports. The EU has shown far more complacency as GM Free Cymru note in their excellent (and usefully referenced) press release below.
The Japanese government has said that if inspections "discover contaminated cargoes, the ministry will order importers to destroy them or ship them back to the United States." But the government also says Japanese ports would only be able to "start testing samples of corn cargoes from the United States after the ministry obtained the necessary data from Syngenta to detect Bt10."
And there's the rub, Syngenta seems to be sitting on their hands with complete impugnity, delaying the release of full information at every turn.
This was most apparent in their failure to disclose that Bt10, unlike Bt11, contained a gene for Ampicillin resistance. Ampicillin is a broad spectrum antibiotic which has the ability to kill a wide range of bacterial infections in the body, including gonorrhoea, and infections of the respiratory tract, the ear, and the urinary system, as well as salmonella infections. It is still widely used.
Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymryu points out that Syngenta has been here before in terms of a reluctance to cooperate, if not active intent to cover up evidence relating to its negligence. That is why news of the latest Syngenta GM fiasco was reported in New Zealand in terms of the previous scandal - "Corngate seed supplier admits bungle in later GE crops" (24 March 2005)
5.6 tonnes of GM contaiminated maize seed, supplied by Syngenta, was illegally shipped to New Zealand in 2000 and then planted over 178ha as non-GM seed. This led on in 2002 to the Corngate controversy during the run-up to a general election with allegations that the New Zealand government had been involved in a deliberate cover up.
What also resonates with corngate is the PR tactics Syngenta subsequently adopted:
"In a subsequent select committee investigation, National, NZ First, Green Party, and ACT MPs said the evidence available could neither prove nor disprove the issue. A definitive answer was frustrated because the seed exporter, Syngenta, refused to allow the committee to talk to the Genescan laboratory which carried out the testing that identified the contamination."
As with the New Zealand government, there is concern that the European Commission, Britain's Food Standards Agency and others, are deliberately turning a blind eye to illegality.
Although the EU's Health and Consumer protection Spokesman Philip Tod has claimed, "We have a method to detect Bt11, but not for Bt10 because it is not an authorised product," it remains far from clear that it is necessary for the EU to wait for the necessary data to come from Syngenta in order to detect Bt10.
The longest-established GM detection firm, Genetic ID, says detection of Bt10 is possible immediately: "Contrary to statements by the EU Commission, as reported in some media reports over the past few days, the detection of Bt10 maize as well as the distinction from Bt11 is possible immediately."
Testing for Bt10 is also widely available, including both in the EU and in Japan and South Korea, "Genetic ID offers its test for Bt10 through its laboratories in Germany, the U.S., and Japan, as well as through Genetic ID’s Global Laboratory Alliance® members in Brazil, Britain, Italy, China, Singapore, Taiwan, India, South Korea and, again, the U.S."
While the European Commission simply wring their hands while claiming that nothing can be done, GM Free Cymru point out that a wide range of products could contain the illegal and potentially dangerous Bt10 maize. These include "frozen and canned sweetcorn, corn on the cob, baby food, corn oil, corn flour, polenta, maize meal, maize pasta, maize based snacks and tortillas (including tortilla chips and tacos)." (OPEN COMMUNICATION from Ian Panton to Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, 4 April 2005)
GM Free Cymru has also drawn attention to European Commissioner Margot Wallstrom's statement that "We politicians are accountable to 450 million Europeans and you expect us to work together, to be effective, to communicate with you and to give you a voice." It's time, says GM Free Cymru's Ian Panton, that the European Commission took these sentiments to heart and took action "now to preserve the human rights and the health of all European citizens." (Illegal Contamination of the European Food Chain - An Issue of Human Rights, 6 April 2005)
2.GM Maize scandal: authorities slammed for incompetence and complacency
Press Notice from GM Free Cymru
4th April 2005
The official response within the UK and Europe to the GM maize scandal has been "incompetent and complacent", according to GM watchdog group GM Free Cymru. The group also claims that Europe's GM regulatory system, promoted as being the most rigorous and robust in the world, is actually a shambles.
It is more than ten days since the world was alerted to the "accidental release" onto the world food market of GM maize contaminated with an unauthorized and untested Syngenta variety known as Bt10. The story was kept under wraps for almost four months by the US authorities and Syngenta, and when "Nature" reported the contamination incident on 22 March (1) there was a carefully coordinated "damage limitation campaign" involving statements to the press which were extremely economical with the truth. In the UK, DEFRA put out a statement on 23 March which was evasive and dishonest. More seriously, it contained lies which have still not been officially admitted or corrected.
The notes below itemize some of the features of the disinformation campaign within Britain and the EU.
Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "We have uncovered an appalling catalogue of evasions, cover-ups, lies and complacency relating to this scandal. We do not expect anything better from Syngenta, but we do expect some level of competence from our own regulatory authorities in Britain and the EU. Instead, we have had a clear demonstration that the GM regulatory system simply does not work. Nobody is testing for unauthorized GM material in animal feed or human food imports, and nobody is taking responsibility for dealing with this massive contamination incident. What has the EU done since the disaster came to light? For ten days it did nothing at all. Now it has "deplored the incident" and "requested information from the US authorities". It has even had the gall to boast about the activation of its "Rapid Alert System"! DEFRA has done even less, and has effectively said that the import of illegal GM maize into the UK is none of its business."
"And while all this evasion and obfuscation is going on, there may well be food products on the shelves of British supermarkets which contain concentrations of illegal Bt10 maize (2). These products need to be identified and withdrawn from sale. All imports of maize and maize products from the US into Europe must be stopped while studies are going on, and then only resumed when a tight and properly funded GM testing and monitoring system is in place." (8) (10)
"Let's face it. If Bt10 is contained within any food or feed products within the EU, at even the smallest concentrations, those products are illegal. We simply want the authorities to uphold the laws which they themselves have brought onto the statute books (9)."
Some of the more dishonourable features of this PR campaign are as follows:
** Syngenta stated in it original press release that "several hundred tonnes" of Bt10 maize had gone into the food market. GM Free Cymru then calculated that the real figure was closer to 185,000 tonnes, and when a further estimate of 133,000 tonnes was published in "New Scientist" magazine, the company had to admit the truth, and acknowledged a distribution of 150,000 tonnes of contaminated grain (3).
** The company stated at first that " Bt10 and Bt11 are physically identical and the proteins are identical" as an explanation for the fact that the unauthorized variety was grown "accidentally" for four years in 20010-2004. This is completely untrue, and information on the record in the US and Canada shows that the varieties are different in a number of important respects (4).
** Syngenta made no mention in its press statements or interviews that Bt10 contains an ampicillin antibiotic resistance marker (ARM) gene, which makes it substantially different from Bt11. It has now been forced to admit the presence of ARMs in Bt10, following investigations by FoE Europe.
** The company has refused to name those countries which have imported the contaminated and illegal grain for food use, in spite of repeated requests. All it has said so far is that "up to 10 kg of Bt10 seed may have been exported inadvertently as Bt11 for research purposes to Spain and France."
** The company has refused to give a full characterization of the unauthorized GM variety, which means that products that might be derived from it cannot be tested for Bt10. Neither has it yet provided a specific detection method for use by the relevant authorities.
** The company has maintained the pretence that their Bt10 maize was used mainly for animal feed. This is contradicted by the Syngenta web pages on its Bt maize, which make it clear that Bt11 (and by implication Bt10, which is supposedly "identical") was developed mainly as a sweetcorn variety intended for human consumption (5).
** In spite of numerous requests from GM Free Cymru and other NGOs to the EC, to EFSA and DEFRA, including personal letters to Elliot Morley MP and the the relevant EC Commissioners, no action was taken for ten days after the breaking of the story. At last the EU made a statement to the press (6) which was complacent and ineffectual. The statement maintained the pretence that the EU is not in possession of information on "the structure of Bt10" -- but it has had key information about it on its files for at least a year, since Bt10 was used as the "control" during the authentication process for the later variety called Bt11.
** In the UK, the DEFRA press release issued on 23 March simply regurgitated some of the disinformation put out by Syngenta, including a number of statements that were demonstrably false (7). The intention of the statement was clearly to show that the contamination incident was "on an extremely small scale" (which it patently was not); that Bt10 is an animal feed or fodder maize line (which it is not); that the lines contain the same GM event (which they do not); and that there are no safety concerns (which is untrue, given the presence of ARMS in Bt10).
** In feigning ignorance of the real nature of the genetic event in Bt10, and in pretending to be unaware of the presence of genes capable of increasing antibiotic resistance to bacteria in the human gut, DEFRA failed to mention that it has data on its own files, from Syngenta submissions and ACRE advisory notes in late 2003 and early 2004, which give key facts about the ARMS and other genes inserted into Bt10.
(1) US launches probe into sales of unapproved transgenic corn, Colin Macilwain, NATURE, 22 March 2005. http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050321/full/nature03570.html
(2) Products which could contain Bt10 include frozen and canned sweetcorn, corn on the cob, baby food, corn oil, corn flour, polenta, maize meal, maize pasta, maize based snacks and tortillas (including tortilla chips and tacos). The American authorities calculate that 1,000 tonnes of contaminated GM maize has come into the food chain in Europe since 2001; we suspect that the figure could be far higher.
(3) Farming Today Programme, BBC R4, Friday 1st April 2005.
(4) For example, Bt10 and Bt11 appear to have different promoters, and Bt10 is reputedly unstable. The company has refused to issue information on the nature of the toxins produced in the plant, or their safety.
(5) www.syngenta.com/en/downloads/ Bt_sweet_corn_update_3-04_final.pdf
(6) EU deplores unauthorized imports of maize
BRUSSELS (AP) ”” The European Union said Friday that it deplored unauthorized
imports of BT10, a form of genetically modified maize made by Switzerland's
(7) DEFRA Press Release, 23 March 2005 (see below)
(8) South Korea, a major US market for canned and frozen sweetcorn, has reacted with fury to the news of the Bt10 contamination incident.
See this: www.soyatech.com/bluebook/news/viewarticle.ldml?a=20050331-3
"Reports from private analysts in South Korea said the country's Food and Drug Administration, or KFDA, is looking into how it can test corn imports for Bt10. And Syngenta has mobilized, sending top level representatives to Seoul. Syngenta spokeswoman Sarah Hull confirmed that Paul Tenning, head of the company's global biotech regulatory compliance division, has been sent there."
(9) Quote from EU Press Release, 1st April 2005: "EU environment commissioner Dimas said Brussels was taking action to prevent the banned maize type reaching consumers. "To avoid any adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment ... the Commission has asked (EU) member states to carry out appropriate control measures to stop Bt10 entering their territory," he said."
Commissioner Dimas is now being challenged to specify exactly what these control measures are, and to explain exactly how they will be implemented. He is also being challenged to specify how the EU plans to identify and deal with Bt10 contamination of food supplies already on sale within the EU. "We wish the Commissioner luck," said Brian John of GM Free Cymru, "since he is trying to deal with a horse that bolted while he and his colleagues were fast asleep."
(10) Japan and South Korea, which are the biggest importers of sweetcorn from the US, have both taken steps to shut off contaminated supplies at the ports.
Japan tests for modified corn from U.S.
Reuters. Thursday, March 24, 2005
"An official from the Japanese Health Ministry said inspection offices at Japanese ports would start testing samples of corn cargoes from the United States after the ministry obtained the necessary data from Syngenta to detect Bt10 ............... If the inspections discover contaminated cargoes, the ministry will order importers to destroy them or ship them back to the United States. Bt10 is not approved either for human consumption or animal feed in Japan, although Bt11 is approved for both purposes."