Science in Society Archive

GM food safe?

Recent incidents and scientific findings cast grave doubts over the safety of GM food and feed. We shall be circulating a selection of the following reports.

  1. Cows Ate GM Maize & Died
  2. Transgenic DNA and Bt Toxin Survive Digestion
  3. Bt Toxin Binds to Mouse Intestine
  4. Syngenta’s Spanish GM Trojan Horse
  5. Liver of Mice Fed GM Soya Works Overtime
  6. Animals Avoid GM, for Good Reasons

Syngenta’s Spanish GM Trojan Horse

Spanish-grown Bt maize ends up in animal feed and Syngenta is arguing for co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports

Syngenta registered two GM maize hybrids in the Commercial Varieties Register in Spain in 1998. Since then, only one, Bt176, has been grown. In 2003, however, 5 new Bt hybrids were registered, one each from Syngenta, Monsanto, Limagrain, Nickerson and Pioneer.

Bt 176 was planted on 20 000 hectares in 1998, and kept to that level, "because of voluntary agreement from Syngenta Seeds to limit seed availability", according to a paper produced by the company in Barcelona, Spain. This represents some 4-5% of all Spanish maize crops, with higher than average in Cataluña (13%), Aragón (11%), Castilla-La Mancha (9%) and Madrid (9%).

Syngenta claims that the GM maize is well accepted by small farmers in areas like Cataluña and Aragón, which are most infested by insect pests, but the late-maturing characteristic of Bt176 has resulted in its absence in some of the more important maize-growing areas such as Castilla y Leon.

In 2001/02, a high-average year for maize crop in Spain, 497 000 hectares were planted, 417 000 dedicated for use as grain and 80 000 hectares for silage. Spain is the third largest grain maize producer in Europe, after France (1.18mHa) and Italy (1.15mHa). Spain accounted for 11% total EU area planted and 13% of EU production in 2001/02.

But Spain’s maize production is insufficient for home use. Of the 7.2 thousand metric tons of maize used in 2001-02, 4.2 were home grown, and 1.5 each imported from Argentina and from France. More than 80% of the total maize available is used for animal feed.

Because Bt176 is considered "substantially equivalent" to conventional grain, it is mixed with conventional grain, unless the conventional grain is specifically labelled "non-GM". This has meant that practically all the GM maize has gone into the animal feed processing industry.

In view of the recent incidents in Hesse, Germany, where a dozen cows died from eating the same GM maize (see "Cows ate GM maize and died", this issue), farmers should be extremely wary in sourcing their animal feed.

Syngenta is using the Spanish example as a showcase for co-existence of GM and non-GM plantings, which is fallacious. First of all, there is no guarantee that the level of GM planting will remain the same, particularly in view of the 5 extra GM hybrids being registered in 2003. Second, contamination of organic maize has already been detected, reportedly at less than 1%. Syngenta is arguing that only shows zero threshold level demanded by the organic industry is untenable.

Article first published 18/01/04


Alcalde E. Co-existence of GM maize in Spain. Syngenta Seeds S.A. Balmes 117, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

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