Syngenta: Incompetent Science Covered by Public Relations Smokescreen

AMSTERDAM -- March 31 -- Greenpeace response to: Article in Nature magazine published on 24 March 2005 in which Syngenta admitted to a case of GE maize
(Bt10/Bt11) contamination. Article in Nature Biotechnology magazine published on 27 March 2005 in which Syngenta released the latest research on GE Golden Rice. Article in Nature magazine published on 31 March confirming that the Syngenta Bt10 GE maize contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene.

Amsterdam. 31 March 2005 Syngenta has attempted to deliberately mislead the public with their admission of GE maize (Bt10) contamination published last week when they neglected to include, amongst many other relevant facts, that the Bt10 contained an antibiotic resistance marker gene.

Last week Syngenta declared that what makes this somewhat unique is that Bt10 and Bt11 are physically identical and the proteins are identical. This week following research and complaints by NGOs and others, the information was to give forth that Bt10 contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene that provides resistance to ampicillin.

Ampicillin is an important antibiotic widely used to treat human and animal infections. The European Community's 2001/18 directive requires the phasing out of such antibiotic resistance marker genes (which may have adverse effects on human health and the environment) in GMOs by the end of 2004. Even the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) , which is rarely critical of GMOs state that this type of antibiotic should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market (EFSA, 2004).

Lindsay Keenan Genetic Engineering campaigner for Greenpeace: It is unbelievable that Syngenta after 4 months of preparation for releasing this information should say that these GE crops are physically identical when one contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene and one does not.

This Bt10 / Bt11 contamination case exposes the basic unpredictability of GMOs, the incompetence of Syngenta to handle GMO seeds safely, the complete lack of regulatory controls in the US, and the lack of implementation of controls in the EU. It also exposes the disgraceful attempts of GE companies like Syngenta to cover-up the bad science with a smokescreen of public relations and media management.

Greenpeace has a number of questions regarding this GE maize (Bt10/Bt11) contamination including:

  • Why hasn't Syngenta released a testing protocol for Bt10 yet?
  • According to the Nature report, Syngenta has said the antibiotic marker gene is not active in Bt10. On what evidence is this based?
  • What food and environmental safety testing has been performed? Why haven't the results of any such testing been released?
  • What volume of BT11 has been contaminated by the Bt10? In which countries has it been sold during the last 4 years?
  • What testing is the company now doing to ensure that no BT10 is present in food products? What action is the company taking to recall contaminated food products?
  • Will the company be paying costs for any losses suffered due to the contamination?

Golden Rice propaganda for the GE industry:

The same company that has acted less than honestly over this scandalous contamination incident is also developing the so-called 'Golden Rice', whose latest research results were coincidently revealed in Nature Biotechnology on 27th March.

The so-called Golden Rice is genetically engineered (GE) to produce pro-Vitamin A but is technically insufficient to solve the problem of vitamin A deficiency. Despite this, it is promoted as a cure for dietary Vitamin A Deficiency, which affects over 250 million people around the world. In fact, Golden Rice is distracting attention and funding away from better and more sustainable solutions that already exist.

The new generation of Golden Rice is very far away from actually demonstrating that it has a real potential to alleviate dietary Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). All Syngenta have done is to elevate the beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) concentration in the GE rice.

There are still many factors with this GE rice that have not been addressed. For example, losses of beta-carotene on cooking and storage have not been quantified. The bioavailability (real uptake into the human body) of this pro-vitamin A is unknown. Several scientists have discussed that this Golden Rice is a technological fix that is unlikely to work. Vitamin A deficiency is a complex problem, often associated with other vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

After five years of research there are still no answers to questions of safety for the environment and consumers. Over the same period of time, several other approaches to solve VAD have been shown to work efficiently, but to completely solve VAD, what is needed is political support. The Golden Rice project continues to distract public awareness from other real working solutions such as vitamin A supplementations and home gardening incentives. The real solution is a diverse diet.

Greenpeace campaigner Keenan continued: It appears to be quite clear by now that Golden Rice is a research project designed to promote the GE industry in an attempt to make their current environmentally contaminating GE crops more acceptable to consumers and the media rather than any genuine attempt to solve the VAD problem.

Notes to Editor:

ACRE 2004. Advice on a notification for marketing of insect resistant and herbicide tolerant GM maize, C/F/96/05/10 4th February 2004. -

Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 12 March 2001on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC

8. pdf

EFSA 2004. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms on the use of antibiotic resistance genes as marker genes in genetically modified plants. (Question N° EFSA-Q-2003-109). The EFSA Journal 48: 1-18.

MARCH 31, 2005 CONTACT: Greenpeace Judit L. Kalovits

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