The Myth of Coexistence

©Fotografenname: Rolf van Melis, www.pixelio.de
©Fotografenname: Rolf van Melis, www.pixelio.de

The consequences of genetic engineering are clear in countries like the USA or Canada, where for ten years GM plants have been cultivated. In Canada, the entire conventional acreage of rapeseed and soy have been genetically contaminated. Europe should learn from this. Just the smallest genetic engineering in Europe would be irreversible, as it is now the case in Canada and the USA. However in Europe, where GM crops grow currently on less than 0.1% of arid land, there is still a chance to counter the uncontrolled spread of GMOs. The EU wants consumers to be able to choose between, organic, conventional and genetically modified products. This choice depends on whether farms can feel secure in choosing their production methods freely. For the survival of organic farming, protection against contamination of genetically modified organisms is essential. Under EU law one must produce GM free to be certified organic. Preliminary studies have concluded that coexistence, and thus a GMO-free agriculture, can only be secured by measures such as buffer zones, product-labeling and separation. This would depend on the changing of the GMO threshold, which would increase costs. The cultivation of GM crops in developing countries has shown that the majority gains when the thresholds are removed altogether. If it is only economically feasible for genetically engineering to exist without operations such as buffer zones, separation and identification of goods, then is it even economically worth it for the two systems to exist side by side without harming each other? The EU provides consumers with the right to choose GMO-free products. When genetically modified plants are grown, the EU can no longer guarantee 'GM-free' goods. The introduction of new GMO thresholds in seeds would show that the coexistence of genetic engineering, GMO free and organic agriculture is not possible. If these methods of agriculture are able to exist without contamination and are economically feasible like GM companies say, then GMO thresholds are superfluous.

Socioeconomic Factors

In general the EU legislation considers the effects on health and environment for a GMO plant to be approved, but other factors should be considered. The new EU minister of environment wishes to address socio-economic factors, which have been given little attention until now. The 27 EU member states were therefore invited to meet in January 2010 to discuss the introduction of socio-economic considerations that relate to the approval of genetically modified plants. The need to address socio-economic factors is apparent when one imagines the future of organic farming. In the 12 years since the introduction of genetically altered seeds into the market, conventional and organic seeds have been contaminated. Farmers and the food industry paid the economic price, because no one else claimed liability. In the future, there needs to be legally binding liability conditions for contamination. The damages that result from contamination incidents are different in countries that have been using genetically modified plants for a longer time. For example, in Brazil, growers depend on only one GM seed supplier. Smaller and middle size suppliers of regional varieties had to give up. Since the prices of fertilizers and herbicides have increased, and financial losses for farmers have become even more common, there is little hope for change. The US and Canada show a similar picture. Most land contracts are made with one large seed company. Companies make it difficult to break these contracts. If a field is contaminated only one time, the harvest can only be sold as GM.

Patenting Life

©Fotografenname: Marvin Siefke, www.pixelio.de
©Fotografenname: Marvin Siefke, www.pixelio.de

Once released into nature, organisms are no longer retrievable. Therefore, precautions are necessary in the field of agricultural biotechnology. Clear legal framework and independent transparent safety research must ensure that the technical intervention of man in nature causes no environmental damage, health problems to humans and animals, or contamination of feed and food. With the help of genetic markers, multinational corporations are planning future traceability of their varieties from cultivation until harvest. By a distinctive gene sequence, any unintentional crossing into neighboring fields would be just as detectable as seed reproduction. This is a serious threat since these genetic markers would make potentially all sorts patentable. Today only 10 corporations control two thirds of the global seed market. Increasing concentration of firms and patent monopolies on seed prices is reducing the range of choices. Especially in the US, genetically modified seed successes are celebrated by Monsanto, a corporation that holds more than 1000 patents on life, many of which are patents on seeds. In Europe, even as corporations are pressuring Europe to accept, genetic engineering is still met with widespread rejection. Meanwhile, many companies already have patents on non-GM plants. Companies have attempted to declare markers or genetic fingerprinting on already existing conventional breeding methods. The technical contributions made by companies are so low that they can hardly be considered an innovation. Nevertheless big seed companies try to use minor technical tools to submit a patent application. Since 2008, companies have succeeded in retrieving 25% of all patent applications for seeds and plants. As a result, farmers become increasingly dependent on the financial control of the seed market by few multinational corporations. These corporations dictate the prices for seed, depending on the expected profit margin for farmers. Then the companies threaten large fines for patent infringement. In developing countries such practices would have disastrous consequence and would drive hunger to continue.

FAQ

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Where can I...

...  find information and material to print out and inform others?
...  find basic information about genetic engineering?
...  find information on a specific GMO?
...  find the key documents on the planned Seed Directive?
...  find the relevant institutions in my country?
...  send letters to Members of the European Parliament?
...  get in touch with other supporters of the SOS initiative?
...  find out more about the Pro-GMO lobby, PR agencies and companies?

Impact of 0,3 % seed contamination

 Maize                             Rape                            Wheat                        Cabbage

The pictures show the level of contamination in "non GM seed" at the level of 0,3%.

Maize
- About 300 GM plants per hectar in "non GM" fields
- Around 18 millionen GM grains of pollen per cob
- Outcrossing up 4.440 meters

 Oilseed Rape
- 1,500 to 2,100 GM plants per hectar in "non GM" fields
- 500 GM seeds per plant
- Outcrossing up to 26 kilometers
- Seeds too small to control at harvest and during transport
- Seeds survive 10 to 15 years in the soil
- Clearly the end of GM-free oilseed rape cultivation in Europe, as shown by the example of Canada
- Outcrossing to wild relatives

 Wheat
- 12,000 GM plants per hectar in "non GM" fields
- More than one plant per square meter

 Cabbage
- One in 333 "non GM" cabbages is 100 percent GM

Ootos and explanations: Siegrid Herbst,  Arbeitsgemeinschaft gentechnikfreie Saatgut-Arbeit

New GMO plants

©Fotografenname: Otto Wenninger, www.pixelio.de
©Fotografenname: Otto Wenninger, www.pixelio.de

Agricultural biotechnology is still a discussed controversey in Europe. Many consumers reject genetically modified food and feed as before, and there is no consensus within the EU member states and various EU institutions concerning the use of green genetic engineering. In spite of this situation, genetic engineering research is developing steadily in the US. Recently, several plants' genes were combined creating a GMO that has stacked genes. This poses a new problem for detecting plants with genetically modified organisms.

No Tolerance for Illegal Imports

©Fotografenname: Petra Dreiling-Schewe, www.pixelio.de
©Fotografenname: Petra Dreiling-Schewe, www.pixelio.de

Advocates of genetic engineering are arguing for faster and stronger authorisation and simplified licensing. These arguments are undermined by the Europe-wide zero tolerance on GMOs. It is suggested that the GMO approvals around the world are granted quickly and economically, but Europe falls behind. However, through a closer look at the global GMO regulatory system, such a disproportion in the approval is only between the U.S. and the rest of the world. (From 2004-2009, 19 of the 24 contaminated samples found in the EU were from US imports.) Between Argentina and Brazil, the two biggest producers of GMOs outside of the USA, not one contamination was reported. Considering these results it is completely unnecessary to loosen the existing EU legislation. More importantly, it seems imperative to demand that the USA, the biggest producer of GM plants, to develop a system to avoid genetically contaminated exports in the future. Thresholds for inadequate or non-safe rated genetically modified organisms would lead the EU legislation to fail to protect the environment and consumers. The European market would be flooded with non approved GMOs. For consumers this would occur because of largely obscured thresholds. In addition it would be as a result of the US agricultural economy, whose authority continuously refuses to establish a system of separation of goods. The question remains whether the US economy will demand further concessions from EU legislation, even though it is not in any position to prevent genetic contaminations and is rewarded for its thresholds.

... find information and material to print out and inform others?

On our  Downloads page you can find more information and material to print out and share with others. You can also find our Save Our Seeds flyer. If you would like to order more flyers from us, please contact us by email at  info (at) saveourseeds.org. Thankyou for your support.

General Questions on GMOs

Here is a list of links to web pages, which will provide you with introductions to the technologies and the issue of genetic engineering from different perspectives.

 DNA Tour of the Basics short introduction to basic concept of DNA
 DNA from the beginning A sophisticated educational introduction to classical and molecular genetics
 Glossary of Biotechnology terms a searchable glossary maintained by Kimball Nill of the American Soybean Association
 Introduction to Genetic Engineering by The Union of Concerned Scientists including explanations and links
 Origins - How James Watson's Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories present the discovery of DNA (including the original submission of Watson and Crick 1953)
 DNA interactive a very fancy (flash) presentation of some basic concepts of DNA and Genetic Engineering as well as a celebration of the short history of molecular genetics in the form of a scientists personality show also from Cold Spring Harbour
 Mendelweb contains Mendels original in full text (German and English) and a lot more around it.
 The Tree of Life Web Project is collaboratively produced by biologists from around the world to provide information about the diversity of organisms on Earth, their history, and characteristics on 2600 web-sites.
 Fed up - an online video from San Francisco interviewing many critical and not so critical scientists about Genetic Engineering
 What is genetic engineering? a short introduction with many links by an organisation called "Physians and Scientist for Responsible Application of Science"
 Harvest of Fear a sophisticated pro and con argument site by public broadcasting services in the US

... find out more about genetics, molecular biology and genetic engineering?

Here is a list of links to web pages, which will provide you with introductions to the technologies and the issue of genetic engineering from different perspectives.

 DNA Tour of the Basics short introduction to basic concept of DNA
 DNA from the beginning A sophisticated educational introduction to classical and molecular genetics
 Glossary of Biotechnology terms a searchable glossary maintained by Kimball Nill of the American Soybean Association
 Introduction to Genetic Engineering by The Union of Concerned Scientists including explanations and links
 Origins - How James Watson's Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories present the discovery of DNA (including the original submission of Watson and Crick 1953)
 DNA interactive a very fancy (flash) presentation of some basic concepts of DNA and Genetic Engineering as well as a celebration of the short history of molecular genetics in the form of a scientist's personality show also from Cold Spring Harbour
 Mendelweb contains Mendel's original in full text (German and English) and a lot more
 The Tree of Life Web Project is collaboratively produced by biologists from around the world to provide information about the diversity of organisms on Earth, their history, and characteristics on 2,600 websites
 Fed up - an online video from San Francisco interviewing many critical and not so critical scientists about Genetic Engineering
 What is genetic engineering? a short introduction with many links by an organisation called "Physicians and Scientists for the Responsible Application of Science"
 Harvest of Fear a sophisticated pro and con argument site by public broadcasting services in the US

... find information on a specific genetically modified organism?

The European Union's  Joint Research Centre (JRC) runs the Community's official homepage on deliberate releases and placing on the EU market of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). It includes a list of experimental releases and a list of applications for placing on the market (commercial releases, also called part C) in so called SNIFs (Summary Notification Information Format) and "assessment reports" about each GMO. The public can submit comments within 30 days after publication of these SNIF directly on this website. The JRC also provides a database on all GMO detection methods available and tested.

The most comprehensive inventory of GMOs approved worldwide with details about the DNA transformation and worldwide approval status (June 2003, updated every 6 months) can be downloaded from the  Swiss Centre for Biosafety Assessment, Technology and Sustainability (BATS). It is a large 199 page pdf file, which we advise you to download (also as zip) once and then use offline.

For a quick overview on which GMOs are presently approved for what purpose and which GMO approvals are presently pending within the EU, have a look at the Annexes of the EU Commission's general  Questions and Answers on GMOs.

The  OECD also runs a database of GMOs which is searchable by organism, country, company and unique identifier.

In the US the USDA's  Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (Aphis) provides a list of GMOs for which a non-regulated status (approval) has been sought and/or applied for. The US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) provides a  list of GMOs, for which the consultations have been completed, which includes some explanation of the US approval system as well.

In the future you can also check in their minutes whether the European Food Safety Authority's  Scientific Panel on genetically modified organisms took any position on individual GMOs.

You will also find a lot of information under Dossiers

... Information about other countries

Try the links below:

 Biosafety regulatory ministries and institutions
In your country there is a ministry in charge of the safety assessment and approval of GMOs. You can find out by checking the OECD database on Biosafety Regulatory developments, which provides a list of regulatory institutions in all countries.

 Standing Committee on Seeds
There is a seed regulatory institution, which represents your country in the "Standing Committee on Seeds". It is appointed by the ministry. Below is a participants list from one of the last meetings. We have also collected a partial list of  persons attending the Seed Committee, but they may change. Please let us know, if you have more updated information.

 GMO-free Europe an excellent site hosted by Friends of the Earth.

... find the relevant institutions in my country?

Try the links below:

 Biosafety regulatory ministries and institutions
In your country there is a ministry in charge of the safety assessment and approval of GMOs. You can find out by checking the OECD database on biosafety regulatory developments, which provides a list of regulatory institutions in all countries.

 GMO-free Europe an excellent site hosted by Friends of the Earth.

... get in contact with the Members of the European Parliament?

You can find a  list of all Members of the European Parliament on the European Parliament website. It includes their party affiliation, the committees they work on and other functions. It even contains a (usually short) declaration of financial interests. At the very least, you will find office contact information in Brussels (forget Strasbourg). But you should try to find out their local address and contact information, which is either listed directly or may be found on the homepages of some of the members list there. The most effective way is to call their home offices or to write or fax a letter there and to ask for a reply. The least effective (but easiest) approach is an email to them. You will also find the contacts to the Commisioners, who are directly responsible for the policy on GMOs here.

... get in contact with other supporters of the SOS initiative in my country?

1. Click on the flag on the left side of the page, and select your country to look for organisations.
2. Click on List of all signers (database sorted by country) and select your country.
3. Write an  e-mail to us, and we will try to provide you with the relevant contacts. 

... Information about the pro-GM lobby, PR Agents and Active Companies

 Europa-Bio is the main EU Biotech-Lobby organisation based in Brussels. It has a large membership both of "red" and "green" biotech industries and provides a complete membership register of national biotech organisations and companies.

There is a very instructive webpage on the  biotech-boom in the USA, including an impressive listing of all presidential campaign contributions and lobby expenditures of major GMO industries in the USA according to Congress-reports by "Capital eye"

 GM watch, an anti-GMO campaign, provides a  list of lobbyists, scientists, institutions and PR companies worldwide, who actively promote GMOs in agricultural and whom they call the "Biotech-Brigade". Not all of their judgments may be unbiased, but its a very useful list to find out about frequently quoted and publishing individuals and institutions affiliations.

... find out more about the pro-GMO lobby network and PR activities of GM companies?

 Europa-Bio is the capital EU Biotech-Lobby organisation based in Brussels. It has a large membership both of "red" and "green" biotech industries and provides a complete membership register of national biotech organisations and companies.

There is a very instructive webpage on the  biotech-boom in the USA, including an impressive listing of all presidential campaign contributions and lobby expenditures of major GMO industries in the USA according to Congress reports by "Capital eye".

 GM watch, an anti-GMO campaign, provides a list of lobbyists, scientists, institutions and PR companies worldwide, who actively promote GMOs in agricultural and whom they call the "Biotech-Brigade". Not all of their judgments may be unbiased, but its a very useful list to find out about frequently quoted and publishing individual's and institution's affiliations.

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