Bayer Admits it is Unable to Control Spread of GMOs

Court case shows that all outdoors field trials or commercial growing of GE crops must be stopped before our crops are irreversibly contaminated.

GM Rice protest in India

We all know about Big Biotech suing over their ‘rights’ to intellectual copyright. Being little more than a decade since Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) started commercial-scale release, these companies have become powerful and arrogant in double-quick time as they’ve sought to make us all captive customers to their unnecessary and unwanted ‘products’. But, increasingly, farmers are deciding not to put up with their bullying and negligence any longer.

Today’s good news:

Greenpeace welcomes the United States federal jury ruling on 4 December 2009 that Bayer CropScience LP must pay $2 million US dollars to two Missouri farmers after their rice crop was contaminated with an experimental variety of rice that the company was testing in 2006.

This verdict confirms that the responsibility for the consequences of GE (genetic engineering) contamination rests with the company that releases GE crops.

Bayer has admitted it has been unable to control the spread of its genetically-engineered organisms despite ‘the best practices [to stop contamination]'(1). It shows that all outdoors field trials or commercial growing of GE crops must be stopped before our crops are irreversibly contaminated.

A report prepared for Greenpeace International concluded that the total costs incurred throughout the world as a result of the contamination are estimated to range from $741 million to $1.285 billion US dollars.(2) The verdict indicates that Bayer is liable for what could turn out to be a large proportion of these costs, as it awards damages in the first two of more than 1,000 currently pending lawsuits. The decision must be used to support all claims for losses incurred by other US farmers whose crops have suffered from GE contamination. – GM Watch

This court case, with hopefully many more awards to farmers to come yet (bankrupt the bastards, I say), is about the GM rice Liberty Link 601 or LL601, which was discovered in farmers’ fields in 2006 through the keen observations of U.S. farmers and subsequent testing. First discovered in January of that year, tests of neighbouring farmers lead to the discovery that this rice had already been unknowingly cultivated across several U.S. states, and worse, it was then found on dinner tables and on fields in more than thirty countries worldwide. (See page 10 of Greenpeace’s ‘Risky Business’ PDF for more details on the dates and locations of its spread around the globe.)

Greenpeace activists dressed to symbolize the "bul-ul", a traditional
Ifugaorice guardian, carried out a protest at the Department of
Agriculture in Quezon City, Philippines

This contamination caused an almost overnight collapse of the U.S. rice export market in 2006, bankrupting farmers and causing everyone to question any biotech company’s ability to stop cross-contamination of GMOs, as well as the ability of the USDA to monitor and regulate the release of biotechnology since despite months of investigations they failed to trace the source of the contamination.

And the clincher? This rice had never ever been approved for commercial release (i.e. had not been through any kind of food safety tests). It escaped from test plots from Bayer’s field trials. The rice had actually been trialled years earlier, between 1998 and 2001. Contamination obviously occurred at the time, and the rice steadily progressed long after the rice variety had been abandoned by Bayer.

The Bayer response at the time was twofold:

  1. Blame God – I kid you not.
  2. Try to get it retroactively approved, pronto.

LL601 was engineered similar to Monsanto’s ’roundup ready’ varieties of crops – in this case to withstand a proprietary Bayer glufosinate-ammonium herbicide. Such ‘technologies’ are behind a dramatic increase in herbicide usage, as the herbicide resistant trait transfers via pollen (called ‘horizontal gene transfer‘) into neighbouring ‘weeds’, thus creating superweeds. Read Who Benefits from GM Crops? – the Rise in Pesticide Use (PDF) for more details.

People have been safely ‘engineering’ plants for millennia, without the need to bypass plants’ natural defenses to bombard their cells with genes from entirely unrelated species. GM crops have failed to deliver on their promises, and are an expensive distraction from the faster, localised natural plant breeding techniques that can quickly optimise plants for specific locales.

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

… The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a “decrease” in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening. — Independent

On ethical grounds alone, even putting aside all the health and environmental implications (which are potentially enormous given the ability of unapproved varieties spreading around the world before they’re even discovered), all genetically modified organisms should be destroyed – as it is impossible to stop their spread. If a farmer decides to use them, he is effectively making the decision that all other farmers will grow it too. This is morally untenable.

If a fraction of the money going into Big Biotech’s pockets were used to finance small research stations studying permaculture worldwide – naturally productive systems and function-stacking to optimise production sustainably – we’d see healthy, locally appropriate solutions getting rolled out, and right at a time when we truly need it.

Incidentally, as the events in Europe at the turn of the millennium have showed us, where supermarket chains suddenly dropped their GM product lines, it doesn’t actually take too much to stop GMO sales if just a few of us put our minds to it….