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Suppressed EC study shows GE crops will be costly for all

Geneva, 16 May (Kanaga Raja) - All farmers would face high additional, and in some cases unsustainable, costs of production if genetically engineered (GE) crops are commercially grown on a large scale in Europe, according to a study prepared for the Commission of the European Union, but which has not been made public, according to the international NGO, Greenpeace.

The secret study, which Greenpeace says, has been leaked to it, predicts that the situation would become particularly critical for organic farming of the rape oilseed as well as for intensive production of conventional maize.

The EU Commission ordered the study on the co-existence of GE and non-GE crops in May 2000 from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, of the EU Joint Research Centre.

The study was delivered to the EU Commission in January 2002 with the recommendation that it should not be made public, according to Greenpeace.

In forwarding the study to the EU Commission, the Director-General of the EU Joint Research Centre, Barry McSweeney, has suggested in his letter that “( ) given the sensitivity of the issue, I would suggest that the report be kept for internal use within the Commission only.”

“The European Commission has tried to keep this study secret”, said Lorenzo Consoli, Greenpeace EU policy advisor, “because it was afraid of its political implications. The question is, if the introduction of GE crops on a commercial scale in Europe increases costs of production for all farmers, makes them more dependent from the big seed companies, and requires complicated and costly measures to avoid contamination, why should we accept GE cultivation in the first place?”

The EU study states that in oilseed rape production, the co-existence of GE and non-GE crops in a same region, even when “technically possible”, would be “economically difficult” because of the additional costs and complexity of changes required in farming practices in order to avoid genetic contamination.  Both, organic and conventional farmers, “would probably be forced to stop saving seed and instead buy certified seed”, because of the increased risk of GE impurity for seeds that have been exposed to field contamination. The study predicts that smaller farms would face relatively higher costs compared to larger entities, and that cultivation of GE and non-GE crops in the same farm “might be an unrealistic scenario, even for larger farms”.

The main specific findings of the report were:

·        Commercialisation of GE oilseed rape and maize and to a lesser extent potatoes will increase costs of farming for conventional and organic farmers at a range between 10 and 41 per cent of farm prices for oilseed rape and between 1 and 9 per cent for maize and potatoes;

·        Coexistence of GE farming and organic farming would be actually impossible in many cases;

·        Generally, coexistence would only be possible with massive changes in farming practices, especially for conventional farmers;

It would also require co-operation between farmers in a region and the willingness of all farmers concerned to participate in such co-operation. It is not clear who would implement these changes, who would be responsible for controlling their correct implementation, and who would shoulder their costs.

·        Seed and crop purity from GE at a detection level of 0,1% would be virtually impossible in most cases, i.e. all products and seeds of oilseed rape and maize would be contaminated with GE to a certain extent.

The study, based on a combination of computer modelling and expert opinion, analysed the consequences of an increase in share of GE crops.

It focused on the three crops for which GE varieties are currently available:

oilseed rape for seed production, maize for feed production and potatoes for consumption. The study covered several farm types, both organic and conventional farming. It also considered three different threshold levels for genetic contamination: 0,1% (analytical detection level) for all the three crops, 0,3 % for oilseed rape and 1% for maize and potatoes.

Meanwhile, in a column in the English newspaper Guardian (Tuesday, 14 May) under the title ‘The fake Persuaders,’ George Monbiot, has brought out how the powerful global corporate interests, the Monsanto Corporation in this case, has used a PR company which without full disclosures, managed to start a ‘discourse’ via a bio-list server to discredit the research work of two researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that showed that native maize in Mexico had been contaminated across vast distances by pollen from GM (genetically modified) maize.

Monbiot has cited two journalists, Jonathan Mathews and free lance journalist Andy Rowell about how a PR firm contracted by Monsanto to play a crucial but invisible role in shaping a scientific discourse, got one going to discredit the study, to the point when the prestigious magazine, Nature which had originally published the study, retracted the study after publication.

Via a bio-technology list server (AgBioWorld) used by scientists, a message questioning the methodology and conclusions was started by a correspondent ‘Mary Murphy’ arguing that one of the researchers, Igancio Chapela, was on the board of the Pesticide Action Network and thus biased. This was followed up by a message by ‘Andura Smetacek’ asking questions about the payments received by Chapela for speaking engagements, and that the paper had not been peer reviewed.

Monbiot, after investigations, traced the identity of Mary Murphy to ‘Bivwood.com’, a property of Bivings Woodell, a part of the Bivings Group, a PR firm. Monbiot’s letter to ‘Mary Murphy’ and asking her whether she was employed by Bivings and whether it was her real name, brought an answer “I can see by your articles that you have made up your mind about bio-tech”.

Monsanto and its subsidiaries have been trying to persuade Mexico, Brazil and the EU to lift their embargoes on GM crops, and the research study about pollution of normal crops by pollen from GE crops carried over long distances would raise alarms and show the dangers of ‘pollution’, and the difficulties of isolating the cultivation of the two varieties.

The use of genetically engineered cotton crops have been allowed in India, in the state of Gujarat (run by the Bharatiya Janata Party government) in a process that has now been challenged by local civil society, development and environment groups. – SUNS 5120

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