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Seeds

Contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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