Friends of the Earth calls for industry to pay the costs

Media Advisory
Friends of the Earth International

Brussels (Belgium), 13 April 2005 — The European Union’s executive Commission should immediately halt all imports of maize from the United States, said Friends of the Earth today.
Late on April 12 European member states agreed unanimously to a proposal demanding that all shipments from the US are certified free of an illegal genetically modified (GM) maize – a de facto ban on the import of US maize-based animal feeds. The Commission is likely to make the decision in the coming days. (1)
The agrochemical firm Syngenta admitted three weeks ago that it had sold unlicensed GM seeds to US farmers for four years. Syngenta has since refused to make public the information needed for governments to test food and feed imports for the illegal GM maize.
Whilst Friends of the Earth is backing the European Union (EU) proposal, it is urging the European Commission to go further and:
Immediately halt all shipments of imported US maize food and feed products unless they can be certified as not containing the illegal GM maize;
Insist that Syngenta sets up a compensation fund to pay for the testing of maize products worldwide;
Urgently review the EU’s monitoring system to guarantee public protection from unapproved GM products.
The incident was first made public through an article in Nature on 22 March (2). Between 2001 and 2004 Syngenta sold several hundred tonnes of a GM maize seed, called Bt10, to US farmers, mistaking it for another GM maize, Bt11. Unlike the Bt11 maize, Bt10 has not been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. It has been estimated that around 1000 tonnes of the illegal GM maize entered the European food chain and was even planted at test sites in Spain and France.

Syngenta claimed that the Bt10 maize was “physically identical” to Bt11, a view initially endorsed by governments and the European Commission. Friends of the Earth disagreed, pointing out that the unapproved GM maize also contained a controversial antibiotic resistance gene, which confers resistance to an important group of antibiotics. Syngenta finally admitted that this was indeed the case (3).
Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth said:
“EU countries have now given the European Commission the green light to introduce strict restrictions on US imports. The Commission must act quickly to protect the public from this unlicensed and untested genetically modified crop.”
“The failure of Syngenta to provide the basic information needed to test for their contamination is a disgrace. The Commission must insist that this secrecy ends and Syngenta sets up a fund to pay for testing. The polluter must pay, not the public.”
“The inability of the biotechnology industry to control its own products makes a complete mockery of the EU’s monitoring systems. The European Commission must order an immediate review to ensure that the public is never again exposed to unapproved genetically modified foods.”

Adrian Bebb, + 49 1609 490 1163 (mobile)
(1) Member states met in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health
news: On April 13 th , the European Union introduced emergency measures restricting the import of animal feeds from the United States. EU member states voted almost unanimously for proposals that only permit shipments that are certified free of an illegal GM maize. With no means to test reliably for the contamination, and no segregation from the US, the measures are likely to result in a de facto ban on the import of US maize-based animal feeds for the foreseeable future.
(2) read more
(3) Bt 10 contains the amp gene, which confers resistance to the ampicillin family of antibiotics. In recent guidance, the European Food Safety Authority stated that GMOs containing this gene should not be approved for cultivation and their use restricted to field trials.