The Guardian August 30, 2000


GM crop spills:
Height of corporate irresponsibility

by Andrew Jackson

Two global agribusiness corporations have this week admitted to major 
spills of their experimental Genetically Modified crops into the Australian 
environment.

The confessions come as a Senate Committee holds an inquiry into GM crop 
trials in Australia, and considers the Howard Government's "Gene Technology 
Bill 2000".

Though both companies deny the leakages pose a major threat, they 
demonstrate the arrogance of big business when putting profits before 
concerns for human health and the environment.

One of the companies, Aventis CropScience, grows experimental GM crops 
across 70 sites in Australia, even though it has admitted to breaching five 
guidelines under which it is currently licensed to operate.

The breaches include failing to comply with a required 15-metre buffer zone 
around the GM crops; failing to safely dispose of GM seeds; and failure to 
properly monitor canola regrowth in the testing areas.

Aventis arrogantly labelled its violations of the code "some minor and 
technical breaches", although when first revealed in March it denied that 
any breaches had taken place.

Aventis has also sought legal advice on how to overthrow Tasmania's GM crop 
ban.

The Tasmanian Government is the first in Australia to ban GM crops by 
declaring them a "forbidden pest" under the Quarantine Act, and did so in 
defiance of the Federal Government.

Aventis said the Tasmanian Government was merely catering to a noisy 
minority and its decision to ban the crops was "ill-considered".

The other company, Monsanto, has admitted that a mix-up allowed "some 
tonnes" of GM cotton seed to be mixed with regular seed in Queensland.

When asked if this GM seed may have ended up in food, the technical 
director of Monsanto, Bill Blowes said, "It may have. There's no way of 
knowing."

The seed may have been crushed for oil, used for cattle feed, or exported 
to another country.

The Committee has heard a number of submissions critical of the current 
temporary set of guidelines, and the Interim Office of the Gene Technology 
Regulator which was set up to monitor the trials.

It has been accused of being failing to protect the public interest by 
being secretive, slow to act, and acting only after breaches were 
publicised in the media.

The Greens have labelled the new "Gene Technology Bill 2000", as gutless, 
and will move amendments to the legislation to protect consumers and 
organic farmers, and also seek a provision to allow States and Local 
Governments to declare "GM-free" zones.

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