3 January 2003
GM PROTESTERS ACCUSED OF INCREASING CONTAMINATION
1.GM protesters accused of increasing contamination
2.Actor Sam Neill on how NZ is being sold a GM pup
1.GM protesters accused of increasing contamination
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Friday January 3, 2003
Protesters against genetically modified crops who "trashed" fields of oilseed rape grown in Oxfordshire have been blamed by government researchers for far higher than expected contamination hotspots in nearby conventional fields.
The contamination has been seized on by critics of the technology as evidence that GM crops and conventional types could not both be grown in Britain.
However, the protesters say that they were unlikely to be to blame. By the time they attacked the crop, flowering had almost ended so there was little pollen to transfer.
During a protest picnic at the site at Watlington on July 3, during the flowering, no one entered the trial fields. By July 18 1999, when the crop was attacked, the flowering had ended, the protesters say.
The report by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, in Cambridge, claims: "A major cause of pollen movement at the Oxfordshire site may have been the invasion of the field by anti-GM demonstrators during the flowering period of the rape. Much of the GM crop was deliberately destroyed by this action.
"Human activity therefore may have carried some GM pollen into areas of the conventional crop where it might otherwise not have reached."
Jean Saunders, a local member of Friends of the Earth, who was present at both the picnic and the later attack on the crop, said: "Someone needs to put the record straight, as demonstrators can't be 'a major cause of pollen movement' if the crop has finished flowering. It is too convenient to blame demonstrators for so-called unexplained high levels of gene flow."
The full scientific report on the trials has now been published, and includes the allegation against the demonstrators. It also says a giant tree in the middle of the field might have led to unusual insect movements or air currents, or contaminated GM seeds might have been planted as part of the conventional crop.
Despite the blame it places on demonstrators, the report says: "If transgenic oilseed rape is grown on a large scale in the UK, then gene flow will occur between fields, farms and across landscapes."
The report also highlights difficulties in gathering information on the likely extent of contamination if GM oilseed rape is grown commercially in this country. Because the research team's work was confined to other crops and plants within 250 metres of the GM crop, the scientists have no idea wheher the contamination was carried further afield.
The main findings of the report were of 0.5% GM contamination rates in crops at distances up to 200 metres, and 3.2% contamination rates at 105 metres in some oilseed rape varieties.
If one spilled seed was left in the ground per square metre and produced a plant the next year, these GM "volunteers" would give contamination rates in conventional crops planted in the same field of between 0.6% and 1.5% depending on variety, the report says. This would render them outside EU limits for labelling as conventional crops.
The volunteer plants came up four years running after the original GM oilseed rape was sown.
Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley said: "The report shows there are still big holes in the science of cross-pollination, and more research is needed before GM crops can be given the go-ahead. The government must resist pressure from the biotech industry to approve GM oilseed rape for commercial growing in the next 18 months and consider the full facts. Proving the safety of GM is going to be risky and costly."
2.Sam Neill: In the field of GE food we're being sold a pup
New Zealand Herald, 03.01.2003
This time of the year is normally reserved for optimism, but if you can detect the telltale tick of an ominous countdown, you are not alone. The Government has signalled its clear intention to lift the moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms in October, come rain or shine.
Many people are alarmed by this. However, the Prime Minister has briskly labelled them "Luddites", somewhat unkindly, so we march forward to a scientific brave new world, like it or not.
The Government has been persuaded to sell us a dog. A rather ugly five-legged dog at that. And on close inspection it looks like the dog might be sporting a toad's rear end.
The problem with buying a crook dog, of course, is that it's very hard to sell on. Consider our major customers for instance. In Britain, all the major supermarket chains refuse to sell genetically modified food, and this stance is spreading to Europe.
In Asia, the Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese have similarly shown themselves to be reluctant to buy GM food. The United States has been told by Japan that if Monsanto releases its GM wheat seed, all American wheat will be unacceptable. Just as virtually no American corn is now taken by European importers.
They know that you cannot grow GM crops as well as conventional crops without the two mixing. Nature ensures that with pollen, wind and bees genetic material is broadcast. And in Japan, as in Europe, even trace contamination is too much contamination.
There is no doubt that this resistance to GM food is consumer-driven: 71 per cent of European consumers on close questioning say they wouldn't touch it.
Why this overwhelming aversion? Of course in Europe, after mad cow disease and foot and mouth, people are understandably somewhat wary of modern farming practices. That is why they continue to present such a good opportunity for us as GM-free primary producers.
The branding "clean, green and GM-free" is potentially enormously attractive in the Northern Hemisphere. Could it be that the Government is under some pressure from our competitors to accept GM so there is no choice and we lose our advantage?
It's also fair to say that a good proportion of these consumers abroad find the idea of genetic modification downright troubling.
The crossing of species boundaries and the implications this has for evolution and the integrity of species (as well as individual life forms) is a concern that runs deep.
Making a genetically modified organism, you see, isn't like producing, say, a better conventional wheat such as the Hilgendorf; crossing good strains to produce an even better grain. It involves the insertion of genetic material from one organism into another to produce a transgenic organism.
Thus, as in one case, you might introduce fish genes into tomatoes to make them frost-resistant. Or bacterial toxins into crops to give them insecticidal properties.
And the Crop and Food Institute at Lincoln produced the famous example of a potato crossed with toad genes. I was accused by one eminent scientist in July of being a fantasist - but what scientist living in the real world could seriously imagine people actually wanting to eat a toad-potato? You have to laugh sometimes, don't you?
Interestingly, this same scientist has reportedly had a change of heart in respect of GM food.
Now, squeamish though it makes me feel, I find it impossible to argue against the use of GM in medicine under appropriate conditions. If, indeed, scientists can find a cure for a major disease, more power to them.
But the use of GM in the production of food or fibre at this point seems unacceptably risky.
We don't know nearly enough about what the release of GMOs into New Zealand, and the food chain, will mean for the environment and for human health.
But that's the dog the Government wants us to buy. Myself, I'd leave it in the vendor's yard, firmly tied to a tree.
* Actor Sam Neill is a member of the Sustainability Council.
"..there is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and private donors. To a large extent, this 'crisis' has been manufactured (might I say, 'engineered') by those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology. To use the needs of Zambians to score 'political points' on behalf of biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. " - Dr Chuck Benbrook, a leading US agronomist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences
"It's wicked, when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics... if there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed it is here." UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, speaking at a briefing of British parliamentarians, November 27, 2002
more on the food aid crisis: