Failing in the Field

August 26, 2003

GM crops in Spain don't deliver promises, but harm farmers and environment

A new study published today by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace demonstrates that the growing of GM crops in Spain is causing contamination of organic crops, producing low yields and its benefits are grossly overstated. The report is also highly critical of the Spanish Government for failing to properly control or monitor the situation. [ 1 ]

Spain is the only country in the European Union where GM crops are grown at a commercial scale: since 1998, an estimated 25,000 hectares are planted each year with a genetically modified corn variety (called Bt176) sold by the Swiss biotech company Syngenta. The corn has been engineered to resist the European Corn Borer, a potentially harmful insect for maize.

The cultivation of GM corn in Spain is taking place without any official evaluation (although prescribed by Spanish law). However, there is now information - made available through a few independent studies- that shows that the GM plantings pose serious economic and environmental problems:

  • A study by IGTA [ 2 ] demonstrates that - over the years 1998 to 2000 - in most cases there were no differences between conventional and GM crops when attacked by the corn borer. This indicates that the corn borer survives the toxin produced by the GM plant, which poses a real risk if resistance develops. This can not only create an economic problem to farmers, but also an environmental problem, since heavier and more environmentally damaging pesticides will be needed to fight the "armed" insects.
     
  • The first cases of organic crops contaminated by GMOs have been discovered in the northern region of Navarra by the Council of Organic Farming in Navarra (CPAEN, a public organic certifying body). Consequently the organic certificate was withdrawn and farmers suffered losses because their product could not be labelled organic anymore for marketing purposes.
     
  • Studies have shown that the yields for the GM crop are substantially lower then comparable conventional varieties. For example, one study reported that in 1999 the GM corn yielded 25% less then the top yielding variety.
     
  • The Spanish Governments own Working Group on Pesticides reported in 2002 that corn borer incidence in Spain is "low" and "does not justify the use of these GM varieties" [ 3 ]. In contrast, the biotech industry states that "Spanish farmers have suffered European Corn Borer for generations". [ 4 ]

The report by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth also explains the approval process in the USA and the EU as well as the legal issues related to GMOs since 1996. It reveals for example that Bt 176 varieties were already withdrawn in 2001 from the list of approved varieties by the competent authorities in the US, a country known for its support to GM crops.

The findings of the report are supported by mainstream Spanish farmers unions.

Liliane Spendeler from Amigos de la Tierra/Friends of the Earth Spain, one of the authors of the report, said: "This research shows that GM crops are not the miracle crops that they are often taken for. On the contrary: the only ones benefiting from these crops are the biotech companies, while farmers and the environment are suffering from negative effects."

Co-author Juan-Felipe Carrasco of Greenpeace Spain said: "Spain has become a big experimental field, where GM crops have been cultivated for the last 5 years without any agronomic advantage compared to conventional varieties and where no measures have been adopted to prevent their negative impacts.

The Spanish example illustrates what could happen on all European farmlands if the EU Commission allows contamination thresholds in conventional seeds and if biotech companies are not held liable for their contamination of conventional and organic fields."

Notes:

1. The report "The impact of GM corn in Spain" is available from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace websites in Spanish and English: www.tierra.org and www.greenpeace.org/espana_es
2. Instituto Técnico de Gestión Agraria del Gobierno Navarro, the Official Farm Research Institution in Navarro
3. Spanish Ministry of Agriculture- Report of the Working Group on Pests and Diseases in Extensive Crops. April 2002.
4. Europabio press release, 27th September 2002.