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Seeds

Genetically Modified Crops

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, will later say that around this time he discovered that Monsanto is feeding GM cotton plants from test fields to cattle. “I had great issue with this. I had worked for Abbot Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put [it] into the food supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply.” When he explains to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot that feeding experimental plants containing unknown proteins (see 1996) to cows is a potential health risk to humans, the scientist refuses to end the practice. “Well that’s what we’re doing everywhere else and that’s what we’re doing here,” Azevedo recalls the scientist saying. Azevedo then raises his concerns with other employees in Monsanto. “I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto” but no one seemed interested, and in fact, people started to ignore him. Next, he contacts California agriculture commissioners whose responsibility it is to ensure that the management and design of test plots do not pose any risks to public health. But, “once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their comprehension,” Azevedo later explains. “They did not really grasp what untoward effects might be created by the genetic engineering process itself.” He also tries unsuccessfully to speak with people at the University of California. Frustrated with the company and the government’s apparent lack of concern, he quits his job at Monsanto in early January 1998. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Kirk Azevedo

Category Tags: Public Health, Biotech/seed industry, Public Health, Experimental GM Crops, Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

1998: Mexico Bans GM Crops

Mexico bans the planting of genetically modified crops. [Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Mexico

Category Tags: National policies toward GM food, Mexico

According to Canadian canola farmers Ed and Liz Kram of Raymore, Saskatchewan, a plane flies over their farm and spray-bombs three 160-acre fields with a herbicide destroying about half an acre in each field. They believe the herbicide was Roundup and that the bombing was done on behalf of Monsanto to determine if they were growing Roundup Ready Canola without having paid Monsanto’s $15 CAD/acre fee. The Krams believe Monsanto was involved because one of the company’s investigators visited them before the incident inquiring about their canola crop. A government representative who comes out to the farm to investigate the incident suggests the crop damage was caused by lightening strikes. “You think lightening struck in the center of all three of my canola quarters?” Kram asks. The representative then takes a sample to a lab. Testing indicates the presence of a chemical, but is presumably unable to determine what kind. Monsanto denies any connection to the incident. [Canadian Business, 10/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Ed Kram, Monsanto, Liz Kram

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

The Indian government bans the import of terminator seeds on fears the seeds would threaten traditional crops and put the well-being of Indian farmers at risk. [New Scientist, 10/10/1998] In December, the Indian minister of agriculture will issue a statement summarizing the threat posed by terminator seeds (see December 2, 1998). [India, 12/2/1998]

Entity Tags: India

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, India, National policies toward GM food

Shortly before planting season, North American corn refiners announce that they will not accept any grain not approved for sale in the EU. [Ontario Corn Producers' Association, 4/23/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999]

Category Tags: Corn, National policies toward GM food

Ray Mowling, a vice president for Monsanto Canada in Mississauga, concedes to the Washington Post that some cross-pollination does occur between Monsanto’s genetically modified plants and other plants. Referring to Monsanto’s lawsuit against Percy Schmeiser, a canola farmer accused of illegally growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola, Mowling “acknowledges the awkwardness of prosecuting farmers who may be inadvertently growing Monsanto seed through cross-pollination or via innocent trades with patent-violating neighbors,” but explains that Monsanto believes that Schmeiser’s case is “critical” to win in order to protect its patent rights against the use of its seed by farmers who have not paid Monsanto’s technology use fees. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Ray Mowling, Percy Schmeiser

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

Canadian farmer Louie Gerwing finds canola plants thriving in a fallow field he sprayed with herbicide. He brings a Monsanto-hired investigator to the property who determines it is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola. The investigator documents the infestation on film and then removes the plants by hand. The field, which runs along a busy provincial grid road, contained plants as far as 1000 feet away from the road. It had previously been planted with barley, wheat, and peas. Gerwing speculates that Roundup Ready Canola seeds must have been blown off passing grain trucks during the winter and then distributed around his field by drifting snow. [Alberta Report, 9/6/1999; Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 6/16/2000]

Entity Tags: Louie Gerwing, Monsanto

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Canola

Percy Schmeiser finds several Roundup Ready Canola volunteers growing in his fields. (Volunteers are plants that grow where they are not wanted.) He contacts Monsanto about the canola plants, but the company’s representatives do not come out to his farm to inspect them. [Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 6/14/2000]

Entity Tags: Percy Schmeiser, Monsanto

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Monsanto, Canola

Canadian farmer Charlie Boser discovers between 300 and 500 Roundup Ready Canola plants in a field that was sprayed twice for weeds with Roundup mixtures. “Everything along that quarter was burnt to a crisp quite brown except for the canola,” he later testifies in court. The plants had apparently come to his fields from the east. “I was a little upset to have this contaminant on my land. I’d never used a Roundup Ready Canola.” He contacts Monsanto, who compensates him for one of his spray applications and pays the person who had done the chemical fallow to “get some kids to come pick it out,” according to Boser. A Monsanto representative later informs him that a field adjacent to his was planted with Roundup Ready Canola. [Alberta Report, 9/6/1999; Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 6/16/2000; Western Producer (Saskatoon), 6/22/2000]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Charlie Boser

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Canola

In an interview with the Alberta Report, Craig Evans, general manager of biotechnology for Monsanto Canada, refuses to say whether or not Monsanto accepts the responsibility of removing Roundup Ready Canola plants that spread to fields where they are not wanted. “We have 55 representatives out there to help all growers with all weed control problems,” says Evans. “Covering costs depends on the situation. At the end of the day, I don’t want to say if we do or we don’t.” [Alberta Report, 9/6/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Craig Evans

Category Tags: Monsanto, GM Contamination, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

In a letter to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a Canadian-based organization that advocates on behalf of farmers, Panama’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries says his government “will adopt measures to prohibit the specific [terminator] patents as well as the technology in general.” [RAFI Communiqué, 3/2000, pp. 4 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Panama

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, National policies toward GM food

Grupo Maseca, Mexico’s top producer of corn flour, says it will phase out its use of genetically modified corn. Mexico purchased $500 million of US corn in 1998. [Food & Drink Weekly, 9/13/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Grupo Maseca

Category Tags: Mexico, Corn, National legislation/policy, National policies toward GM food

Cletus Avoka, Ghanaian Minister of Environment, Science, and Technology, says his government will not permit the use of terminator technology. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 1/15/2000; AgBiotech Reporter, 2/2000]

Entity Tags: Ghana, Cletus Avoka

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, National policies toward GM food

In Montreal, Canada, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG) continues negotiations on the text of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), the first protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The conference is the last in a series of BSWG discussions that began on February 22, 1999 in Cartagena, Colombia. It is attended by over 750 participants, representing 133 governments, NGOs, industry organizations, and the scientific community. The purpose of the protocol is to develop a set of international minimum safety standards for the regulation of trade in genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). The major points of contention during the negotiations relate to (1) the obligations of an exporter to inform importers of shipments containing GMOs, (2) the rights of an importer to reject GMO imports, and (3) whether CBD or World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations have primacy in cases where there is a conflict between the two. The two main negotiating blocks are the “Miami Group” (which includes the GMO-exporting countries of the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) on one side and the European Union and the Like Minded Group (which includes most developing countries) on the other. The Miami Group had formed earlier in Cartagena in order to prevent genetically modified agricultural commodities from being included within the scope of the Protocol, preferring that their regulation remain solely under the jurisdiction of the WTO. The delegates agree on a final draft during the early morning hours of January 29. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; IISD Linkages, 2/18/2000; EAAP News, 8/2000; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005; Biowatch, 3/26/2005] The Protocol will enter into force on September 11, 2003, ninety days after receiving its 50th ratification. [Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005]
Biodiversity Clearing-House - The CPB establishes a “Biodiversity Clearing-House” to facilitate the exchange of information on GMOs and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) - The Protocol requires exporters of GMOs to seek permission from the importing country before the GMOs are exported. For most GMO exports, the exporter will be required to follow a set of procedures referred to as the “Advance Informed Agreement” (AIA). However, for GMOs intended for food, feed, or processing (LMO-FFPs), and not planting, a different, less rigorous notification system applies. For these types of GMOs the CPB only requires governments to notify the Biodiversity Clearing-House when they have decided to permit the use of a GMO in their own country and to supply certain information about it. This alternative notification system for food, feed, and processing GMOs was a concession negotiated by the GMO-exporting Miami Group. Pharmaceutical GMOs, GMOs-in-transit, and GMOs intended for use in a laboratory, are also subject to fewer, less stringent regulations. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
The Precautionary Principle - The CPB permits countries to restrict or ban a GMO if they believe there is a potential for the GMO to cause adverse affects. Conclusive scientific evidence is not necessary. “Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Multilateral Trade Agreements vs. Convention on Biological Diversity - The Cartagena Protocol contains provisions that address circumstances that would also be under the jurisdiction of certain trade agreements. But it does not address the issue of which set of regulations should take precedence, only stating that “trade and environment agreements should be mutually supportive with a view to achieving sustainable development.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety, World Trade Organization

Timeline Tags: Neoliberalism and Globalization, US International Relations

Category Tags: International trade of GM food

Canadian canola seeds sold to Europe by Advanta Canada are discovered to be contaminated with a small percentage of genetically modified (GM) seeds. [Canadian Press, 6/4/2000] The contamination resulted from pollen that was blown in from a farm growing GM crops more than a kilometer away. European citizens and governments are outraged and farmers in some of the countries plow their crops under. [Globe and Mail, 5/25/2000; New Scientist, 12/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Advanta Canada

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Canola

Pierre Gaudet, owner of a 400-hectare organic soya farm and president of the Quebec Federation of Organic Producers, learns that four percent of his 60-ton crop contains genetically modified soya. His crop was apparently cross-pollinated by his neighbor’s fields. He loses $33,000 when he is forced to sell his contaminated crop on the conventional market, which pays only $190/ton compared to the $750/ton rate that is paid for organic soya. “There is no insurance for that. I can’t sue my neighbor—he followed all the rules,” Gaudet says. “All the companies tell us that cross-pollination [of soya] is impossible, so I didn’t take any special measures.” [Gazette (Montreal), 10/5/2002]

Entity Tags: Pierre Gaudet

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Soybeans

Australia and New Zealand, in a joint statement, announce that they will require all genetically modified products to be labeled. [Australian Broadcast Corporation, 7/28/2000; Australia, 7/28/2000]

Entity Tags: Australia, New Zealand

Category Tags: National legislation/policy, National policies toward GM food

Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, and his assistant, David Quist, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, discover the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in native Mexican maize growing in the remote hills of Oaxaca, Mexico. The contaminant genes contain DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is often used as a promoter to “switch on” insecticidal or herbicidal properties in GM plants. Contamination is also found in samples from a government food store that purchases animal feed from the US. The Oaxaca region is considered to be the birthplace of maize and the world’s center of diversity for corn, “exactly the kind of repository of genetic variation that environmentalists and many scientists had hoped to protect from contamination,” the New York Times reports. Scientists worry that the genes could spread through the region’s corn population reducing its genetic diversity. Critics of genetically modified crops have long argued that the technology cannot be contained. According to Dr. Norman C. Ellstrand, evolutionary biologist at University of California at Riverside, the discovery “shows in today’s modern world how rapidly genetic material can move from one place to another.” The findings are not good news for the biotech industry which is currently lobbying Brazil, the European Union, and Mexico to lift their embargoes on genetically modified crops. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Manchester Guardian Weekly, 12/12/2001; BBC, 3/13/2002] It is later learned that the contamination resulted from Oaxacan peasants planting kernels they purchased from a local feed store. Though there’s a moratorium on the growing of GM crops, there’s no such ban on animal feed containing GM seed. [Cox News, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Bivings Group, Monsanto, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Biodiversity, Corn, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources announces that it has found genetically modified (GM) corn growing in 15 different localities. It began investigating potential GM contamination after two Berkeley scientists found maize growing in Oaxaca (see October 2000) that was contaminated with genetically engineered DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus. [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Mexico does not release its study until January 2002 (see January 2002).

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico

Berkeley grad student David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, publish the results of a study (see October 2000) finding that native Mexican maize has been contaminated with genetically modified genes. The study—published by the British journal Nature after an eight-month long peer-review process—presents two arguments. In addition to reporting the discovery that some of Oaxaca’s maize contains transgenic material, the paper says they found transgene fragments scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. [Quist and Chapela, 11/29/2001 pdf file] The study’s second conclusion causes a controversy because it contradicts the assertions of the biotech industry that genetic engineering is a safe and exact science, and that the technology is capable of controlling precisely where the modified sequences are positioned, how they will be expressed, and whether or not they will be passed on to successive generations. One of the main arguments of the technology’s detractors is that the methods used to insert trangenic genes into an organism’s DNA cannot be done with accuracy and therefore are liable to produce unpredictable and undesirable effects. Following the publication of Quist and Chapela’s article, other Berkeley biologists—who work in a Berkeley University program partially funded by Syngenta, a major biotech firm—criticize the study, leading Quist and Chapela to acknowledge that the analyses of two of the eight gene sequences in their paper were flawed. However they stand by their conclusions that the remaining six sequences contained scattered modified gene sequences. Critics of the article also note that both Quist and Chapela strongly oppose the genetic engineering of crops and participated in an unsuccessful effort to block the Berkeley-Syngenta partnership. The issue soon grows into a very large controversy that some suggest is fueled by the efforts of the biotech industry, and in particular, the Bivings Group, a PR firm on Monsanto’s payroll. Forum postings at AgBioWorld.org are reportedly traced to a Bivings’ employee. It is also noted that another person posting on the forum makes “frequent reference to the Center for Food and Agricultural Research, an entity that appears to exist only online and whose domain is [allegedly] registered to a Bivings employee.” Bivings denies that it is in any way connected to the forum postings. In spite of the controversy surrounding the article’s second finding, the other conclusion, that Mexico’s maize has been contaminated, is largely uncontested, and is buttressed by at least three other studies (see January 2002; February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; BBC, 6/2/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Bivings Group, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-academic, Biodiversity, Corn

A study conducted by three University of Manitoba biologists finds that contamination of Pedigreed canola seed with seeds containing transgenic genes is widespread. In the study, seed was collected from several pedigreed seed lots that were supposed to be free of genetically altered genes that make plants herbicide-resistant. The seeds were used to plant 33 fields, which were then sprayed with Roundup, Liberty, and the Smart-trait herbicide. After the herbicide application, only one field contained no survivors. Of the 27 seedlots, 14 had contamination levels exceeding 0.25 percent and therefore failed the 99.75 percent cultivar purity guideline for certified canola seed. For three of the seedlots, contamination levels were higher than 2.0 percent. “That means one wrong seed in 400, if a farmer is seeding between 100 and 120 seeds per square yard. That means you would have a Roundup-resistant plant every couple of square yards,” explains plant biologist Lyle Friesen. “In a less competitive crop where you can mix products like 2,4-D or MCPA, that becomes a real problem and the volunteers set seed and become a real problem for next year.” Friesen tells the Manitoba Co-operator that, as far as canola is concerned, the “genie may be out of the bottle.” [Manitoba Co-operator, 8/1/2002; Friesen, Nelson, and van Acker, 2003]

Entity Tags: Lyle Friesen, Rene Van Acker

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Studies-academic, Canola, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources publishes the results of its study (see September 18, 2001) on transgenic contamination in Oaxaca and nearby Puebla. The study found contamination levels between 3 and 13 percent in eleven communities and between 20 and 60 percent in four others. Tests conducted on maize sold in government food stores revealed that 37 percent contained the GM genes. [East Bay Express, 5/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-government, Corn

In an unprecedented move, Nature runs an editorial pulling its support for a controversial study by Berkeley scientists David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela on genetic contamination of native Mexican maize. The study, published the previous fall (see Late November 2001), reported that native maize in Oaxaca had been contaminated with genetically modified (GM) genes and that transgene fragments were found scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. Immediately after being published, the article came under attack by pro-GM scientists who disputed Quist’s and Chapela’s second finding. “In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper,” the journal’s editor, Philip Campbell, writes. “As the authors nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the authors’ response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves.” Though the journal withdraws its support, it does not retract the article. [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002] The decision to withdraw support is based on the opinions of three unnamed independent experts whom Nature consulted. Only one of those experts, however, disputed Quist’s and Chapela’s finding that there was evidence of contamination. All three agreed that the second finding—that transgene fragments were scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA—was flawed. [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Philip Campbell

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-academic

Jorge Soberon, the executive secretary of Mexico’s biodiversity commission, announces that government scientists have confirmed that genetically modified (GM) corn is growing in Mexico. The finding supports what two US scientists reported several months earlier (see Late November 2001) in a highly controversial paper published in the journal Science. Calling it the “world’s worst case of contamination by GM material,” he says 95 percent of the sites sampled in Oaxaca and Puebla were found to have GM maize. Samples taken from these sites indicated a contamination level as high as 35 percent. [Daily Telegraph, 4/19/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jorge Soberon, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: Mexico, Biodiversity, GM Contamination, Corn, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Studies-government

An Australian study published in the Journal Science finds that wind or insects can carry canola pollen up to three kilometers (1.87 miles). In Canada, where the contamination of non-transgenic canola with genetically modified (GM) genes has become a serious problem, the present isolation distance of GM canola is a mere 100 meters. “The study underlines a clear risk,” the report says. “Once transgenes are introduced they can’t be completely controlled.” [National Post, 6/28/2002; Rieger et al., 7/4/2002; Manitoba Co-operator, 7/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada, Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada, Lyle Friesen

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Studies-academic, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Canola

Agriculture Canada publishes a study on the contamination of conventional crops with proprietary genetically modified genes. The study says that scientists in Saskatoon tested 70 certified canola seed lot samples for the presence of genetically modified genes and found that almost half were contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene and 37 percent with Pioneer Hi-Bred’s Liberty Link. Fifty-nine percent contained both. The study warns that “unless canola pedigree seed growers take extra care to control canola volunteers in the years between canola pedigree production, such volunteers could raise the presence of foreign genes to unacceptable levels.” [Manitoba Co-operator, 7/4/2002; Natural Life, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Studies-government, Canola, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

The US Department of Agriculture orders ProdiGene to destroy 155 acres of corn that it believes have been contaminated with genes modified to produce medicine. The GM corn, which has not been approved for consumption by humans or livestock, is being developed by ProdiGene to produce the compound trypsin for diabetes as well as another another chemical to treat diarrhea. [Washington Post, 11/14/2002; Reuters, 12/9/2002]

Entity Tags: ProdiGene

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Corn

A study conducted by a coalition of North American civil society organizations finds that cornfields in nine Mexican states—Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz—are contaminated with genetically modified (GM) DNA. A total of 2,000 plants from 138 farming and indigenous communities are tested. Contaminated corn is discovered in 33 of these communities, or 24 percent. Contamination levels vary from 1.5 percent to 33.3 percent. Some plants are found to contain as many as four different types of GM DNA—one herbicide-resistant variety and three Bt varieties, including Starlink, which is banned for human consumption in the US. Several plants in at least one of the contaminated fields are deformed. “We have seen many deformities in corn, but never like this,” Baldemar Mendoza, an indigenous farmer from Oaxaca, says during a news conference. “One deformed plant in Oaxaca that we saved tested positive for three different transgenes. The old people of the communities say they have never seen these kinds of deformities.” [ETC Group, 10/11/2003]

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-civil society, Corn, Indigenous peoples

A study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that traditional US varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola have become widely contaminated with low levels of transgenic genes. Contamination levels are the highest for canola, the study finds, with six of the six traditional varieties testing positive for genetically modified DNA. Based on the study’s findings, the authors estimate that the level of contaminated seed in the US is probably in the range of 0.05 to 1 percent, which the report notes “would represent huge absolute amounts of seed.” According to the authors, the study shows how easy it is for transgenic genes to escape. It also suggests the possibility that genes not approved for consumption—such as those engineered to produce drugs, plastics, and vaccines—could end up contaminating food crops. [Mellon and Rissler, 2/23/2004 pdf file; Mellon and Rissler, 2/23/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Union of Concerned Scientists

Category Tags: Studies-academic, GM Contamination, Canola, Corn, Soybeans

The US, Mexico, and Canada enter into a trilateral agreement that allows food and grain shipments to have GM contamination levels as high as 5 percent. Shipments containing less than the five percent level will only have to bear a label indicating that the grain may contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, accidental contamination of corn shipments into Mexico will not trigger any labeling requirements. Only the distributor will have to be informed of the contamination. The Mexican government enters into the agreement without the Mexican Senate’s approval. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004] Critics of the deal say the US is attempting to protect agricultural biotech companies and US agriculture. A large percentage of the country’s crop is genetically modified and as a result US farmers and biotechs are having a tough time finding markets abroad. Raising the acceptable contamination limits in other countries will help increase US grain exports. Critics also say that the deal could have a dramatically adverse effect on the genetic diversity of Mexico’s maize. It could result in the planting of more genetically modified corn since small farmers have been known to occasionally plant feed as seed. A few years before, maize growing in Oaxaca and Puebla was discovered to contain genetically modified genes (see October 2000; April 18, 2002). It is believed that the contamination was caused in part by farmers who had planted feed from local stores selling grain imported from the US. The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that is opposed to genetically modified crops, warns that if Mexico permits the import of grain with such high levels of contamination, the country’s “maize crop would be riddled with foreign DNA from the Rio Grande to Guatemala in less than a decade.” [ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Greenpeace believes that US efforts to convince countries to lower the accepted levels of contamination are aimed at undermining the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (see January 24-29, 2000), which has been set up to regulate transboundary shipments of genetically modified organisms. [Greenpeace, 2/11/2004]

Entity Tags: United States, Mexico

Category Tags: Mexico, International trade of GM food

After Percy Schmeiser finds volunteer Roundup Ready Canola plants growing in a 50-acre parcel of his farm that was chemically fallowed, he calls Monsanto and asks them to remove the plants. In 2000, a federal court issued an injunction barring him from growing any plants containing the company’s patented genes and cells (see March 29, 2001). A team of Monsanto investigators shows up and offers to remove the plants. But before they do so, they ask him to sign a legal release, prohibiting him from speaking publicly about the settlement terms and releasing the company of all liability. Schmeiser refuses. “I flatly refused to sign any release that would take my freedom of speech or my rights away,” he says. “They must think I’m absolutely crazy I would ever sign my rights away.” According to the company’s inspectors, the plants appear to have grown in a uniform pattern inconsistent with pollen flow. They also say that it is not normal for canola plants to flower in late September. In a letter dated September 30, Schmeiser responds that the dispersal pattern of the plants are not uniform and are thickest by the road, which is what one would expect if they germinated from seed blown of trucks or from a neighboring farm. He also notes that canola seeds may germinate at any point during the year, if conditions are right. With neither side willing to give in to the other’s demands, Schmeiser removes the plants himself on October 21. Monsanto spokesperson Trish Jordan insists the company is under no legal obligation to remove plants that show up in fields uninvited. [Western Producer (Saskatoon), 10/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser, Trish Jordan

Category Tags: Monsanto v. Schmeiser, GM Contamination, Canola

The USDA Office of Inspector General releases a report concluding that the USDA has failed to provide adequate oversight and regulation of field trials for experimental genetically modified crops, especially high-risk crops that have been engineered to produce chemicals. The agency’s failure to provide effective oversight, according to the report, increases “the risk that regulated genetically engineered organisms (GEO) will inadvertently persist in the environment before they are deemed safe to grow without regulation.”
bullet The USDA failed to record the locations of field trial sites and conduct the required inspections.
bullet The agency’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) “lacks formal, risk-based process for selecting individual sites for inspection.”
bullet The USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) failed to complete all of the inspections requested by Biotechnology Regulatory Services, including inspections of fields planted with crops designed to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.
bullet The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) “currently does not have legislative authority to hold applicants financially responsible for costs incurred by USDA due to an unauthorized release of regulated GEOs.” Consequently, taxpayers would have to “bear the expense of removing GE material from the environment in the event of an unintentional release.” [US Department of Agriculture, 12/29/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (USDA)

Category Tags: Experimental GM Crops, Experimental GM Crops, Studies-government

Federal Judge J. Michael Seabright rules that the US Department of Agriculture violated both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed the cultivation of drug-producing GM crops in Hawaii. The court says the USDA acted in “utter disregard” of the two laws because it failed even to conduct preliminary investigations before granting approval for the growing of these crops. The Hawaii islands are home to 329 endangered and threatened species. Seabright’s ruling is the first court decision regarding plants that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical drugs or industrial compounds. The case primarily concerned four permits that had been issued to Monsanto, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company, and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center allowing them to grow drug-producing corn and sugarcane at various locations in Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Maui between 2001 and 2003. The plaintiffs in the case—Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and KAHEA (the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance)—also challenged the USDA’s practice of refusing to disclose the locations where experimental chemical-producing GM plants are being grown and what substances those plants are being developed to produce. [Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Mike Johanns, et al., 8/10/2006 pdf file; Center for Food Safety, 8/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto, Pesticide Action Network North America, J. Michael Seabright, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company

Category Tags: Experimental GM Crops, Court decisions, Environment

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announces that US commercial supplies of long-grain rice were inadvertently contaminated in 2005 with a genetically modified variety (LLRICE 601) developed by Bayer CropScience that has not been approved for human consumption. Johanns says the Department of Agriculture believes the “product is safe.” LLRICE 601 contains bacterial DNA that makes it resistant to a weedkiller manufactured by Aventis. Johanns also says that Bayer now has plans to seek FDA approval for LLRICE 601. [Washington Post, 8/19/2006] News of the contamination sends US rice futures plummeting as European grocery stores begin pulling US rice from their shelves. The European Union says it will only accept US long-grain rice that has been certified GM-free. [USA Today, 10/23/2006] Similarly, Japan announces that it is suspending long grain rice imports and warns that if there is another incident of GM contamination, it will reject all US imports. [Associated Press, 10/29/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Bayer, Mike Johanns

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Rice

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