Syngenta's corporate crimes
BY DR BRIAN JOHN
GM Free Cymru has discovered that Syngenta, in its promotion of GM crops and foods, has been involved in a web of lies, deceptions and obstructive corporate behaviour that would have done credit to its competitor Monsanto. It appears to be quite unfazed by the UN decision in Curitiba in March to maintain the moratorium on terminator technology. This is an updated list of some of the proud moments in the corporation's recent history:
** Syngenta knew about the contamination of Bt11 by the illegal variety called Bt10 several months before the story was broken by "Nature" magazine (1) on 22 March 2005. For at least four months Syngenta and the US regulatory authorities connived to keep the contamination incident under wraps, while contaminated grain continued to be distributed on the world market.
** The corporation at first failed to reveal that Bt10 contains antibiotic resistance marker genes, but then had to admit it under pressure from independent scientists (2). It also failed to reveal that it has a different promoter.
** The corporation pretended at first that Bt10 is "basically identical" to Bt11, but it was later pointed out that it was sufficiently distinctive to have been used as a "control" for the testing / identification of Bt11. The pretence was perpetrated by DEFRA, as indicated by a press statement which included these words: "Food or feed derived from a mixture of Bt 11 and Bt 10 maize seeds would not reveal the two original sources of Bt protein as they are identical." This is an unsupportable contention, and has no scientific validity (3).
** The corporation failed to point out that BT10 was clearly an "experimental GM variety" which never entered the US approvals process, probably because it was found to be defective or genetically unstable (4) (5).
** The variety has never had its genetic "character" described in the literature, which means that even if the EU countries had had effective import monitoring in place (which they had not) the GM testing laboratories would not have known what they were supposed to look for (6).
** At first Syngenta stated that "several hundred tonnes" of contaminated maize had found its way into the food chain (1). This was a lie, and following revelations by GM Free Cymru and other bodies, the corporation had to admit that the real figure was around 150,000 tonnes (7). We stand by our calculation that the real figure was around 185,000 tonnes.
** Syngenta has refused to give any figures relating to the amount of contaminated grain exported, and it has refused to identify the countries involved. At least twelve contaminated cargoes have been stopped at Japanese ports, and two in Ireland (8). It is a fair assumption that other contaminated cargoes have been imported, without being identified, through ports in other EC countries, and also in South Korea.
** The corporation has persistently peddled the line that all of the contaminated Bt10/Bt11 maize was intended for animal fodder and other products incorporated into processed animal feed. However, the Syngenta web site makes it clear that the Bt11 event (and hence Bt10 event also) is used in "yellow field corn", which goes into a wide range of processed foods with maize ingredients intended for human consumption (9).
** In an Email to DEFRA, dated 5th April 2005, and obtained by GM Free Cymru through the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, Syngenta admitted that the contamination incident was neither simple nor small in scale. It admitted that no less than five Bt10 breeding lines were involved (10).
** GM Free Cymru discovered that as at 5th April 2005 Syngenta was still holding 19,000 sacks of Bt10 seed "in quarantine" (10). It has never said that this seed has been destroyed, and it is therefore quite possible that it has quietly been slipped back into the food chain and planted as Bt11 maize.
** It has also been admitted by the company that one of the Bt10 breeding lines "was commercialized in a very small amount" -- which would have been illegal even in the USA, since consent for Bt10 lines was never requested or given (10).
** Following the admission that a major contamination incident had taken place, Syngenta embarked upon an energetic damage limitation exercise. Spokesmen said over and again that the tonnage of contaminated maize was but a minute fraction of total US maize production, and they suggested that Bt10 maize would have been diluted evenly through the food chain (11). This is totally dishonest. Since maize is bought in the market place in batches and shipped to food processors in Europe, there is a chance that some food products on supermarket shelves will have had high concentrations of Bt10 in them.
** While regulators in Japan and the EU attempted to establish a reliable test for Bt10 so that incoming cargoes of maize products from the US could be monitored, Syngenta refused absolutely to provide information about the genetic makeup of the variety which could have enabled GM testing labs to start work. After a considerable delay, Syngenta worked out a testing method with a company called GeneScan in May 2005 which was suspected to have been carefully designed to provide "false negatives" -- in other words, to ensure that shipments with low or moderate contamination would not be identified no matter how much sampling was done (11).
** On the political front, it has now been established that Syngenta was very active in the Brazilian delegation that derailed the Cartagena Protocol biosafety negotiations in Montreal in June 2005 (12). In pursuity of its corporate objectives Syngenta has been active in Brazilian political circles for a number of years. It has also (as a Swiss-based company) been heavily involved in the pro-GM campaign prior to the Swiss referendum on 27 November 2005. (18)
** In the first "Corngate" scandal in New Zealand in 2000, illegally imported GM maize seed was planted on 178 ha of land. Mystery still surrounds the fate of the crop. Later, when this leaked out, Syngenta refused to allow access to the GeneScan laboratory which carried out the testing that identified the contamination. (13)
** Syngenta has been actively involved in the promotion of "Golden Rice" in rice-growing countries, and has used its development and "gift" of Golden Rice 2 in its promotion and publicity work, as flagging up its humanitarian concerns and philanthropic instincts. NGOs and consumers and farming groups have pointed out that the Golden Rice project is a gigantic scam which will bring virtually no benefits in terms of hunger alleviation. (14)
** The corporation is the developer and owner of another maize variety called Bt176 which was implicated in the deaths of 12 cattle in Hesse, Germany, in 2001-2002.(15) Bt176 is unstable and non-uniform, which means that it is illegal under EU law. When news of that scandal broke, the inv
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