GM Free Cymru

Chancellor slammed for "cosying up to Syngenta, when he should know better"

Press Notice 8th December 2005 from GM Free Cymru

Chancellor Gordon Brown has been heavily criticised for an unhealthy and "probably improper" relationship with biotechnology corporation Syngenta, following revelations this week that Syngenta boss Michael Pragnell has attended meetings at No 11 Downing Street. Ostensibly the meetings were related to strategy discussions on agriculture in poor countries, and involved the Smith Institute and the "charitable" Syngenta Foundation, which exists (according to its web site) to "improve choice" for poor communities and to promote "sustainable innovation in agriculture."  In other words, it exists to promote biotechnology in general and GM crops in particular. Not surprisingly, there is grave concern among NGOs that Syngenta has been given privileged access to the Chancellor and to the Department for International Development, and that the company has been allowed to promote its GM agenda and to seek to influence Government policy behind closed doors.

 The new DFID Agricultural Policy paper, heavily influenced by Syngenta, shows that the Government has shifted from a policy of supporting sustainable low-impact agriculture for local food production towards a policy of promoting agricultural technology, GM crop varieties, and production geared towards the marketing of crops on the international food market.

 Welsh consumer group GM Free Cymru points out that Syngenta was the company responsible for the recent large-scale Bt10 contamination incident, which had repercussions across the globe and which cost European taxpayers millions of pounds. The health effects are not known, because neither the EC nor Syngenta wants to measure them. Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "The kindest interpretation of that fiasco is that Syngenta is incompetent; a more realistic interpretation is that the corporation lied, tried to cover up the full extent of the contamination, and placed endless obstructions in the way of the authorities which had to deal with contaminated human and animal food. We are frankly amazed that Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn should now be doing business with such a complacent, arrogant and despised corporation, which has, to the best of our knowledge, not even apologized for the disaster."

 GM Free Cymru has compiled a dossier (see below) relating to the behaviour of Syngenta during the European "Corngate" scandal, and has pointed out that its behaviour was equally reprehensible during an earlier GM maize scandal in New Zealand (2000-2002). On that occasion, faced with widespread contamination by an illegal GM maize variety, the corporation refused point blank to cooperate with the authorities, refused to divulge either the genetic characteristics of the GM maize or its testing methods, and refused to allow the testing laboratory to meet the Government's investigating committee. More recently, Syngenta has been heavily involved in what Vandana Shiva has called the "Golden Rice Hoax"; and it has been involved in attempts to derail the Cartagena biosafety negotiations in Montreal earlier this year. Very recently it exerted massive -- and some think improper -- pressure in Switzerland in an attempt to prevent the Swiss people from voting for a GM moratorium in a popular referendum. In the event, its pressure might have proved counterproductive, for 55.7% of voters insisted that the country should remain GM free.

 "If the Chancellor has been doing deals with Syngenta behind closed doors," says Dr John, "it will soon enough become apparent. We know what Syngenta wants -- Government support for GM technology, assistance in promoting its interests in Africa, lax foreign regulatory regimes, no strict liability laws covering GM contamination incidents in the UK, and no additional tax burden on GM growers or seed owners. It hates what has recently happened in Denmark, where new laws will force GM companies and farmers to face up to their responsibilities.  It wants British help in heading off similar laws elsewhere in the EU. Let's now see whether the Chancellor is genuinely interested in protecting the health and safety of the people of Britain and the security of British farmers -- or more interested in helping the commercial aspirations of Syngenta and Monsanto."


Further info: Brian John
GM Free Cymru
Tel: 01239-820470



 GM Free Cymru has, within the past nine months, discovered that Syngenta has been involved in a web of lies, deceptions and obstructive corporate behaviour that would have done credit to its competitor Monsanto. For example:

 ** 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 investigations relating to the animal deaths were short-lived and profoundly unsatisfactory, involving the mysterious disappearance of animal tissue samples that should have been examinued. Syngenta gave the farmer partial compensation in 2002 but refused to provide more support in making a full investigation into the case and to recognise the GM maize as being the cause of his problems. The corporation was then implicated in attempts to attribute the cattle deaths to mismanagement and other factors. (16) This was classic corporate behaviour ...............

 ** Syngenta is currently involved in the acquisition of patents for "terminator technology" around the world, in clear breach of the commitments given some years ago by the GM multinationals that this technology would be abandoned because of the host of biological, ecological and agricultural dangers involved.



(1) "US launches probe into sales of unapproved transgenic corn", Colin Macilwain
NATURE, 22 March 2005
Useful summary of the Bt10 scandal by Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception:
Bt10 likely in human food chain

 (2) Stray seeds had antibiotic-resistance genes
Nature, Published online: 29 March 2005; | doi:10.1038/434548a
Colin Macilwain: "Accidental release of genetically-modified crops sparks new worries".

DEFRA and FSA were informed by Syngenta of the contamination incident on 22 March 2005.
DEFRA Press Release, 23 March 2005

 (4) "I have confirmed with FDA that “BT10 never went through an FDA consultation process.  Therefore, it was never reviewed for unintended human health effects, at least not by the U.S."  Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Center for Food Safety, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 302, Washington, D.C. 20003

 (5) A search of the EC / EFSA web site reveals that BT10 had, as at 22 March 2005, never featured in any studies or discussions. The Syngenta event Bt 10 is a Lepadopteran toxin Cry1Ab.
Bt10 not the same as Bt11

Scientists Rubbish Official Claim GM Corn is Safe / Syngenta's GM Maize Scandals (5/4/2005)


 (8) As at December 2005 at least twelve contaminated cargoes have been identified in Japan and Ireland, involving 34,000 tonnes in the former country and 2,500 tonnes in the latter. But in the period 2000-2003 (when most Bt10 would have come into the food chain) a total of c 685,000 tonnes of maize and maize products (excluding seed and popcorn) was imported by the EU from the USA; products contaminated with Bt10 will long since have been consumed.

 (9) This type of corn is picked at a mature, predominantly starchy stage, dried to a more hardened state, and used in a multitude of ways--as livestock feed and, after refining, in a wide array of processed foods and drinks, from cornstarch to whiskey (as well as in many nonfood products, such as fuel, paper, and plastics).  The full range of manufactured maize products is enormous, including packaged sweetcorn, corn on the cob, baby food, corn oil, corn flour, corn starch, polenta, maize meal, maize pasta, maize based snacks and tortillas (including tortilla chips and tacos).


Bt10 Detection Method Unacceptable
The detection method for Syngenta’s illegal GM maize is flawed; there must now be a full disclosure of information and access to reference material for retrospective risk assessment and risk management. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins



 (14) Golden rice
When Public Relations replaces Science

 (15) Cows ate GM maize and died


 (17) Danish tax on GM crops

 (18) The Swiss referendum on GM
The 5-year moratorium is now part of the Swiss constitution
SAG and Blueridge-Institute ( and
Press release/background information


 New Labour love-fest on GMOs
from Eco Soundings by John Vidal
The Guardian, December 7, 2005,7843,1659447,00.html
Benn defends aid for GM crops
John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian, December 8, 2005,15709,1661841,00.html