The Hague, April 17, 2002 – Farmers, farm and biodiversity advocates, today, demanded at a shadow conference during the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP6) that a fast track mechanism to address liability for genetic contamination be developed now. They also called for immediate solutions to prevent genetic contamination.
This week news broke that one variety of Monsanto’s GMO canola illegally entered food and seed supplies. This is the latest development in an ongoing struggle between farmers and multinational biotechnology companies. Speakers cited it as one more reason to take action.
The conference aimed to show the need to take action to protect agricultural biodiversity and address increasing corporate control over agriculture, especially in developing countries. On the International Day of Farmers’ Struggle recognized in locations worldwide, the conference highlighted the case of a lawsuit against Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser by Monsanto over the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on his farm. Other cases of conflict between the biotechnology industry and farmers around the world were highlighted, as well.
A Canadian judge ordered farmer Percy Schmeiser in March 2001 to pay Monsanto thousands of dollars because a GM canola variety from Monsanto was found growing on his field. In a landmark challenge of a multi-billion biotech company. Percy is appealing that decision in a case that will be heard on May 15 and 16. Percy maintains that he never voluntarily grew these seeds, but genetic contamination occurred through direct seed movement onto his property and cross pollination.
“Monsanto cannot control, and has never tried to control, the spread of its gene around the country side,” said Percy Schmeiser. “I save and reuse my own canola seed. If farmers are told now that we cannot do it anymore because our neighbours are growing GM crops that blow in, it is a clear that our right to save our own seed has been taken away,” said Percy Schmeiser. The practice of saving, using and exchanging seeds is a cornerstone of agriculture.
Many southern countries are concerned about the potential threats GMO releases present. In Brazil, no commercial cultivation of GMOs is legal today. The current situation is under threat in the Brazilian Congress. An exploratory study conducted by independent researchers on nine different farms in southern Brazil illegally cultivated with GMO soya demonstrates some of the problems related to the commercial introduction of these crops. The study concluded that problems in plant development, significant rates of herbicide use, and emergence of weeds resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) are issues that need further investigation.
“The risk of genetic contamination is too great, especially with corn which is an open pollinated plant. It is just too hard to control.” said Claudia Schmitt from Centro Ecologico in Brazil. Centro Ecologico is a grassroots group working in support of ecologically sound agriculture.
“We don’t need GMOs. We have one of the highest levels of agricultural biodiversity in the world, which is the result of hundreds of years of family farming. We don’t want to risk it,” said Claudia Schmitt.
A third example lies in Bolivia, the center of origin of the potato. More than 200 varieties may be found in the Andes. Bolivia implemented a moratorium on the introduction of GMOs at the beginning of 2001, but under pressure of biotechnology companies overturned the new law in October 2001. According to Maria Luisa Ramos of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), “Biotech corporations are using all methods to force us to accept GMOs, particularly efforts under the WTO. We will struggle against this because if we allow GMOs to enter, our food sovereignty will be in danger.” Despite the abrupt turn-about by the Bolivian government, attempts to introduce a genetically modified potato have so far been delayed.