Science - May 11, 2006

Greenpeace sows spinach in gm maize

Greenpeace activists sowed spinach in a test field of genetically modified maize early in the morning of 3 May. The activists hope that the spinach will overwhelm the maize. Wageningen UR has reported vandalism to the police.

Heading the research is Dr Bert Lotz, who is disappointed with the Greenpeace action. ‘It’s a shame, and strange that they have disrupted this trial. The trial is intended to make a contribution to consumers’ freedom of choice.’

The Mon810 maize that has been planted contains a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria, which makes the maize resistant to the European corn borer. This insect causes a lot of damage, especially in southern Europe. The genetically modified maize is already grown on a large scale in Spain.

Lotz is using the transgenic maize to examine the spread of transgenic characteristics through pollination. Organic farmers are worried about crossing occurring with genetically modified varieties. According to European guidelines, conventional crops may only contain a maximum of 0.9 percent genetically modified material, otherwise the product must be specially labelled.

In the Netherlands the agreement is that there must be a minimum distance of 250 metres between a field of transgenic maize and a field of organic maize. Lotz is conducting his trial to see whether this distance is big enough. ‘This trial is part of a larger European programme. We are collecting data that will be entered in models that describe the spread of transgenic traits.’ Another five fields in the Netherlands have also been sown with transgenic maize.

Greenpeace is not impressed with Lotz’ good intentions. Spokesman André van der Vlugt: ‘We are against the presence of all genetically modified crops in the open. It’s going wrong all over the world. We only know ten percent of what we need to know to be able to make safe us use of the technology. These tests could just as easily be done with non-modified maize.’ Wageningen UR used the Mon810 maize because there are sensitive tests available to indicate the presence of the introduced gene.
Neither Wageningen UR nor Greenpeace has heard from the authorities yet. Van der Vlugt: ‘We aren’t worried either. We haven’t destroyed anything as far as we’re concerned. We kept to the tractor tracks.’

Greenpeace hopes that the spinach will overwhelm the maize. Lotz is not afraid that this will happen. ‘We are keeping a close eye on the field and we’ll notice if we need to weed out the spinach.’ / KV

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