Risks from GM Maize too great


February 14, 2008 10:32 | by Kartika Liotard

The licence granted by the Dutch Environment Ministry (VROM) to Monsanto to grow its genetically modified maize (corn) in the area of the small municipality of Raalte near Zwolle is a frontal attack on farmers, consumers and farm animals, argues Kartika Liotard. This genetically manipulated maize is intended for feed for pigs reared in mega-stalls. Its introduction continues the seventy year trend to turn our countryside exclusively into a profitable industrial park. Raalte is becoming one site of a trade war fought out between the EU and US, a war over the question of whether genetically manipulated food should or should not be allowed.

In 2004, the European Union adopted what were on paper amongst the world's most restrictive laws on the control of the deliberate release, marketing and use of genetically modified organisms and products made from them This was a result of sustained campaigning and hard work within the European Parliament and national parliaments and governments. For once, public scepticism meant that industry lobbyists did not get all their own way. The framework of laws adopted demand the labelling of products which contain GMOs, or in the manufacture of which GMOs have been used. Products must be followed from farm to plate, carrying with them at every stage documentation showing that they contain, or do not contain, GMO-based materials. Now, in theory at least, if a product does not say on the label that it contains such material, it does not. In fact, what has happened in most EU member states is that supermarkets and other food retailers have simply stopped dealing in GM products, to the benefit of non-GM producers worldwide. They know very well that their customers do not want these products, and have thus sought reliable sources of GM-free alternatives.

This law nevertheless has serious weaknesses and will not completely eradicate GMOs from the food supply. The main reason for this is the aspect of the law that deals with contamination of conventional and organic products with GM equivalents. Provided a producer or distributor can demonstrate that every reasonable precaution against contamination has been taken, the law allows products containing up to 1% GMOs to go unlabelled.

Contamination is, as constantly accumulating evidence demonstrates, highly likely to occur. The trial field in Raalte lies only 250 metres from fields of conventional maize. According to Monsanto this is far enough to prevent contamination. But this is a lie. In the Canadian province of British Columbia NK603, the same maize as has now been planted in Raalte, grew 'spontaneously' at a distance of up to five kilometres from a Monsanto field. The countryside around Raalte is not some laboratory where everything can be kept under control. Biodiversity is often reduced by GMOs because in many cases these have a greater chance of survival in surroundings in which ever more chemicals are in use. Yet the truth is that neither Monsanto nor Greenpeace have any real idea what the consequences of releasing genetically modified organisms into the open environment in any specific case will be, and a genetic intervention with unknown consequences could stand the entire local ecosystem on its head. To take such a risk, the advantages of success would have to be very great indeed, and the situation critical. As the advantages of success are here limited to the corporate wealthy, and the 'experiment' does nothing to address any real food supply or agricultural problem, this is certainly not the case.

The problems occasioned by this genetically modified maize are not limited to environmental damage, moreover. Recently, the French research institute CRIIGen confirmed that NK603 maize caused damage to liver and kidneys in laboratory animals, a conclusion reached on the basis of research materials supplied by Monsanto itself. This is nevertheless for the European Union and the Netherlands' Ministry of the Environment apparently not sufficient reason to proceed with caution.

Monsanto-manipulated maize, which is resistant only to Monsanto's own herbicide, forms part of the development which would see ever greater industrialisation of the whole of the world's agriculture and husbandry. The mega-pigsties, which have recently been proposed in the Dutch region of Salland on the border of the German state of Lower Saxony, merge seamlessly into this scenario. Multinationals such as Monsanto are not interested in producing more or better food to feed the world's population, but simply in monopolising the sector. NK603 maize is patented, so that no farmer may cultivate it without buying seeds from Monsanto, whether in a rich country such as the Netherlands or in the third world. Examples of local farmers who have succumbed en masse to this dependence are legion. Dutch farmers are already hanging by a thread from the bank and will suffer still more financial demands as a result of GM maize.

I am battling in the European Parliament against the rise of genetically modified products. But the real struggle must be waged on the local level. The municipality of Raalte should end this 'experiment' and join the hundreds of local authorities in other parts of Europe which are resisting the present devastation of the countryside by declaring themselves GM-free zones< http://genet.iskra.net/>.

Kartika Liotard is a Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands and the United European Left/Nordic Green Left(GUE/NGL).

See also http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/mcgiffen4.htm