Coexistence impossible court case shows / More on GM contamination in Japan (14/12/2004)

Australian farmer, Julie Newman of the Network for Concerned Farmers in Australia has drawn our attention to the following article (item 1) about a New Zealand food manufacturer who that has been fined for "positively promoting the absence of GM content" in a non-GM product that was found to be GM contaminated.

"Non-GM" or "GM free" must mean what they say, the court said. The judge during sentencing also noted that "many consumers only bought goods they understood contained no genetically modified products". (see item 1 below)

Julie points out, "This is a critical bit of news, as coexistence is based around definitions that claim that 0.9% is accepted in non-GM produce (for the EU) when the reality is that 0.9% is merely what triggers a GM label in the EU.

"In order to legally sell something as GM-free or as non-GM, the produce can not have any trace of GM contamination. Coexistence is proven to be impossible to maintain at a zero tolerance level, therefore coexistence plans are worthless".

And zero tolerance, Julie points out, is exactly what the market wants. For instance, the Grainpool of Western Australia, the Australian Barley Board, and the Australian Wheat Board have all indicated a zero tolerance requirement is essential for their markets. In other words, there will be problems if any material from GM contaminated canola (oilseed rape), which has been given federal approval in Australia although its release, contaminates their grain shipments.

The Australian dairy industry similarly requires a guarantee that stock have not been fed on any GM grain. While some dairies have tolerance levels for GM contamination, others do not. Producers of pork, lamb, and beef have also indicated there is no tolerance for their stock being fed GM contaminated grain and contracts will need to be signed to verify this.

In Australia markets for hay, clover, wine and honey have also requested a zero tolerance of GM in their produce or in any process used to produce their products. The $300million organic industry also require a zero tolerance of GM in any of its produce.

Julie also points out that while farmers are increasingly being asked to sign guarantees of the non-GM status of their produce, they will not in fact know if their products have been contaminated if there are nearby GM trials or there's a commercial release of a GM crop. They do not have to be notified by their GM growing neighbour.

Yet if there is a market rejection of their non-GM product, it is the non-GM farmers who may find themselves liable because liability will rest with the person who signed the contractual agreement to declare their product had no GM present in it. On top of this, it is looking increasingly unlikely that farmers will be able to obtain insurance to cover this risk.

Julie says that as farmers are already having to sign such non-GM guarantees, it would make far more sense to have a strict liability regime that ensured the GM industry was liable for compensation for any losses. The GM industry, needless to say, while claiming coexistence is easily achievable refuses to put its money where its mouth - it is completely opposed to the industry bearing any liability for GM contamination and resulatant economic losses.

This news comes at the same time that 3 different GM crops have been found growing wild around a Japanese port (item 2). One of these is GM canola which is not even approved in Japan and is known to be highly likely to contaminate non-GM canola. It has also apparently been detected at Japanese ports in Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Mie and Hyogo prefectures.

See also the photo essay: Contamination is impossible to control

1.New Zealand vegetarian foods maker fined for GM content in soy-based sausage
2.More on GM contamination around Japanese ports
1.New Zealand vegetarian foods maker fined for GM content in soy-based sausage
Date Posted: 12/13/2004

NEW ZEALAND PRESS ASSOCIATION via NewsEdge Corporation : Wellington - Vegetarian food manufacturer Bean Supreme has admitted that sausages it said were GM-Free actually contained genetically modified soy.

The Auckland company was fined $4250 plus costs after admitting it breached the Fair Trading Act,
the Commerce Commission said in a statement today.

The sausages were investigated by the commission after a 2002 referral from the Food Safety Authority, which found detectable amounts of GM Roundup Ready soy in the soy content of the sausages.

The level of GM material in the sausages did not exceed the 1 percent level specified in the Australia-New Zealand food standard which requires labelling, the commission said.

But it said the fact Bean Supreme labelled them as "GMO Free", and later tried to replace the label
with "Non GM", contravened the Act.

"In the commission's view, positively promoting the absence of GM content was a clear breach of the Act when in fact there was GM content in the product," commission chairwoman Paula Rebstock said in the statement.

Judge John Hole said during sentencing many consumers only bought goods they understood contained no genetically modified products, the commission's statement said.

Judge Hole admitted there was confusion regarding what GMO Free and Non-GM meant.

"He said the difficulty was that the offender had a mindset as to what these expressions meant and was unable to get its head around the fact that whatever the expressions meant to the industry, it did not mean the same to consumers," the commission statement said.

Ms Rebstock said the case would set a valuable precedent for the food industry.

"It is incumbent upon traders to ensure they accurately inform consumers about the GM content of their products," she said.

"This is particularly important because there is no way for consumers to verify those claims, and because they're often paying a premium on the basis of those claims.

"Bean Supreme's attempts to remedy its misleading labels by replacing the 'GMO Free' labels with 'Non GM' did not fix the misrepresentations."

Copyright ©2004 New Zealand Press Association. Source: Financial Times Information Limited.

Kyodo News: GM Corn, soybeans found growing wild
Story in The Japan Times 2004-12-14 (Tuesday)

(This story quotes Prof. Kawata, and has more details than the item circulated previously)

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) Genetically modified corn and soybeans have been found growing wild near Shimizu port in Shizuoka Prefecture, citizens' groups opposing GM foods said Monday.

The groups also said GM rapeseed has been found growing wild near Fukuoka's Hakata port. Members of the groups suspect the plant was spilled during the transport process.

The discovery of GM rapeseed follows its detection at ports in Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Mie and Hyogo prefectures.

"Corn and soybean seeds are less likely to disperse than rapeseed, and it's amazing that they grow wild," said Masaharu Kawata, a lecturer of chemical biology at Yokkaichi University in Mie Prefecture.

Groups including Stop GM Seeds Network Japan conducted the study by collecting the plants and testing them.

The GM corn includes genes that kill insects such as moth worms, while the GM soybeans are engineered to be more resistant to weed killer.

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