Monsanto's GM potatoes on the loose

Last edited 17 September 1999 at 8:00am
17 September, 1999

Ottawa/Vienna, 17 September 1999 -- Biotech giant Monsanto imported Canadian genetically engineered (GE) potatoes to Ukraine ignoring the laws that require environmental impact assessment, according to a Greenpeace investigation published today. Greenpeace called today in Vienna on the world's governments to agree to international rules such as the Biosafety Protocol to stop the proliferation of genetic engineered organisms (GMOs).

"Genetic engineering is a new technology with mostly unknown risks," said the author of the report Iza Kruszewska. "It is unacceptable that a few multinational companies are exploiting the lack of regulation in some countries to export their risky and untested products."

Monsanto NewLeaf potatoes came from Prince Edward Island in Canada and were exported to Ukraine in 1997 and 1998 with the help of Solanum-PEI, a marketing joint venture company of the Canadian provincial government. They were then planted in seven sites Ukraine under the disguise of field tests. However, when the project aroused strong opposition and public rejection in Ukraine it was abandoned and the harvested potatoes were buried in the ground.

"Monsanto conducted no prior environmental assessment even though the law in Ukraine requires one," said Kruszewska. "Also, to bury the potatoes shows the total lack of respect for the Ukrainian environment by Monsanto because the Kanamycin antibiotic resistance gene in the GE potatoes risks being transferred to soil bacteria."

Monsanto NewLeaf potatoes are engineered to produce a toxin which kills the Colorado Potato Beetle. It also contains a gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic, Kanamycin. Field tests for crops containing the same antibiotic gene were rejected by Swiss authorities this spring. Only last year Greenpeace revealed a similar kind of project by Monsanto in newly independent state of Georgia.

Government delegations gathered in Vienna are in their third day of negotiations to agree on a set of international rules that would control exports of GMOs like Monsanto potatoes. "Most of the world still lacks national laws to deal with genetically engineered organisms," said Louise Gale, Greenpeace political advisor. "Therefore we need strong international regulation to protect these countries and biodiversity from genetic pollution."

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