News - September 16, 2009

More accurate maps for genetech fields needed

Wageningen UR needs to disclose the exact locations of its experimental fields for genetically modified crops. Greenpeace says this is stated in a recent court ruling of the Council of State.

Three permits concerning experiments with genetically modified maize were rescinded last week. These involved tests for Pioneer Hi Bred and Monsanto. The locations of the test fields on these permits were too vague, the court contended. The area indicated on the map covered by the permit is a hundred times bigger than the test field itself. This has been done to safeguard the field and to deter protestors from harming it. But this approach is not allowed. The court feels that farmers and citizens will lose sight of the risks of genetic cultivation in this way. The State Council finds support for its decision in recent rulings made by the European Court of Justice.
Herman van Bekkem, Greenpeace campaign leader for gene technology and sustainable agriculture, feels that the ruling will affect all test fields with genetically modified organisms, including those belonging to Wageningen UR. Greenpeace has taken up tens of such cases with the State Council. Van Bekkem: ‘This is the first of a series of cases brought before the State Council. The cases also include twelve Wageningen UR locations. For example, a Monsanto test field is located at the Bizonweg in Lelystad. Even test fields in Wageningen itself and in Groningen do not conform to the European guidelines. We are expecting the verdicts soon.’
Square millimeter
The consequences of this increased openness are negligible, according to Dr. Bert Lotz of Plant Research International. Lotz is the manager of communications of the DuRPh project, which aims to cultivate potatoes with genetically modified resistance to phytophtora. ‘In fact, there will be no implications at all since maximum openness is what we want too. If the government wants us to be accurate to the square millimeter, we’ll do that.’
VROM wants vagueness
Lotz feels that researchers do not need to be vague about the locations of test fields. ‘That’s the government’s policy and it has its priorities. As researchers, we have chosen to heed other considerations. Maximum transparency is the way to go for research.’ Lotz does not expect protestors to aim their shots at the experiments of DuRPh. ‘Our tests are concerned with cisgenesis: the transfer of closely related genes. Its risks are well-known, and so too are its advantages for the environment.’ However, Wageningen UR has more genetech fields than those of DuRPh. /RK