Mounting Evidence of Genetic Pollution from GE Crops
Growing Evidence of Widespread GMO Contamination


December 1, 1999

>From the journal: Environmental Science and Technology

Growing evidence of widespread GMO contamination

Now that millions of tests have been conducted in response to escalating
worldwide concern over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)in food, it is
increasingly clear that GMO contamination of conventionally grown food is a
serious issue. Ultimately, it may trigger legal action.

GMO testing has increased astronomically in recent months, and it now
happens "quite often" that farmers are surprised to learn that crops they
grew in the United States from non-GMO seeds test positive for GMOs when
they reach Europe, said John Fagan, founder of Genetic ID of Fairfield,
Iowa. Genetic ID became the world's first laboratory to offer GMO testing in
1996 and now licenses its nearly foolproof method for detecting GMOs, which
is based on the "TaqMan" DNA testing technique, to laboratories around the

Nine GMO food crops are currently grown in the United States, including
soybeans, corn, canola, tomatoes, and potatoes. GMO versions of quite a few
other crops, most notably wheat, are in the works. The GMOs in most of these
crops can only be detected by DNA testing, which must be conducted in a
laboratory and costs $200-$400. But Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans can
also be identified by a $5.75 protein-based test being sold by Strategic
Diagnostics Inc. (SDI), of Newark, Del., which produces results in 3-5

SDI began offering its tests this spring and has already sold millions of
them, said Joe Dautlick, the company's marketing manager. By this month, SDI
also expects to be offering tests capable of identifying GMO corn. Although
there are 13 varieties of GMO corn and SDI is only planning to offer tests
that will be able to detect four of the most popular Bt and Liberty Link
varieties, Dautlick expects them to be very popular.

The European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand have all
passed or are considering laws requiring that food containing GMOs be
labeled. But almost all GMO testing is conducted by and for businesses that
demand proof the commodities they are buying contain no detectable GMOs.
Even in the United States, where the official policy holds that GMO food is
nutritionally identical to conventional food and therefore requires no
label, some prominent U.S. food manufacturers have pledged not to include
GMO ingredients in their lines. These include the leading manufacturers of
baby food, Gerber and Heinz, as well as pet food maker Iams and a wide
variety of health food companies. U.S. Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman
has also encouraged the food industry to voluntarily label GMO food.

One of the reasons that the pace of testing has skyrocketed in recent months
is because businesses want to avoid embarrassment. Gerber made its no-GMO
vow after Greenpeace used DNA testing to show that the company's dry cereal
baby food contained GMOs, for example. Other companies who have promised
GMO-free food have had their claims refuted by testing.

Much of the GMO contamination that such tests reveal can be traced to
practices that fail to preserve the identity of non-GMO crops, Dautlick
said. Commodities like soybeans, corn, and canola travel along a complex and
convoluted path from the farm field to their ultimate destination on a
consumer's table, passing through a series of grain elevators, transport
trucks, ocean barges, ports, and food companies. Because many businesses in
Germany and Japan require that products be certified to contain less than
0.1% or even 0.01% of GMOs, careless practices like not properly cleaning
out a weighing bin can lead to contamination. People involved in moving
these products "don't want to get stung," so they have begun testing at many
points along the way, Dautlick said.

But even if standardized practices for handling non-GMO crops were
instituted worldwide tomorrow, they would not solve all of the GMO food
contamination problems, according to Fagan. Genetic ID's testing has
documented that GMO contamination of conventionally grown crops occurs when
wind-blown pollen from GMO corn and canola crops in nearby fields
cross-pollinates with non-GMO corn or canola, he said. (This is not much of
a threat for plants like soybeans that self-pollinate.) Genetic ID has also
amassed proof that seeds sold as non-GMO by seed companies are in fact
contaminated with GMOs.

Terra Prima, a company that sells organic corn chips, used DNA testing to
prove that corn grown by a certified organic farmer in Texas was
contaminated by cross-pollination from a nearby field where Bt corn was
grown. The company was forced to destroy $87,000 worth of its chips because
the contamination did not come to light until after the corn was made into
chips; it is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against EPA this February
alleging that the agency registered genetically engineered crops without
adequately considering their health and environmental impacts. In addition
to the cases he has documented, Fagan believes there are many other cases
where non-GMO corn and canola crops became contaminated by cross-pollination
from GMO crops.

Pollen can easily travel beyond the "refuges" of non-GMO crops that EPA
suggests farmers plant to inhibit the development of insect resistance to
the Bt toxin, according to research conducted by the British Broadcasting
Company in conjunction with Friends of the Earth. They employed a German
laboratory to conduct DNA testing that showed pollen from a GMO canola field
ended up 2.8 miles away in a bee hive. Greenpeace also conducted a test in
Germany last October that documented corn pollen's drift into a neighboring
field, said Charles Margulis, a campaigner with Greenpeace.

Genetic drift in which pollen from one kind of plant is taken up by another
plant, creating a new kind of hybrid, is also a concern, Margulis said. The
United Kingdom's National Institute of Agricultural Botany reported in April
that a hybrid "super weed" my have been created after canola pollen was
taken up by wild turnips growing nearby. Some of these hybrid plants have
proven to be resistant to the herbicide for which the canola was engineered
to be resistant.

Genetic ID's scientists became convinced that GMO corn seeds were mixed in
with conventional seeds after they tested products from four major seed
companies. They obtained five large samples of each of five different
conventional seed varieties from each company, Fagan said. What Genetic ID
found after conducting its tests—which are considered the most accurate
method for detecting GMOs because they involve triple-checking for the
presence of GMO DNA—was that all of the varieties of allegedly non-GMO seeds
from each company contained between 0.01% and 1% GMOs, Fagan said.

Though Genetic ID refuses to divulge the identity of the companies whose
seeds were tested, farmers are already concerned about the purity of the
seed stock and many are sending their seeds to be tested before they plant,
Fagan said. Genetic ID has contacted the offending seed manufacturers and is
offering to conduct the testing necessary to certify that their seed lots
are GMO-free, according to a company spokesperson. Last summer, a European
affiliate of Pioneer Hi-Bred International acknowledged that it sold
conventional corn seed that was contaminated with GMOs.

Ultimately, this evidence of how conventionally grown crops are being
contaminated by windborne pollen and how seeds are falsely labeled as being
non-GMO could give organic farmers grounds for a class-action lawsuit, said
Michael Hansen, a research associate with the Consumer Policy Institute. The
basis of such a suit could be the toxic trespass laws passed by many states
to provide citizens with legal recourse against anyone who introduces toxins
into the environment, Hansen said.S