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On August 24, 1998, Greenpeace announced the result of its investigation into an uncontrolled genetic field test Monsanto in the Eastern European country of Georgia. The report reveals how Monsanto used the lack of legislation in Georgia to test its transgenic potatoes using local farmers to grow the potatoes without informing them of the potential risks to biodiversity and their traditional farming methods. Greenpeace is urging the international community meeting in Montreal to agree on legally binding rules to control the proliferation of genetically engineered organisms.
"Monsanto sold Georgian farmers transgenic seed potatoes without telling them what it meant," said Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov in Moscow. "Monsanto took advantage of the non-existent legislation of Georgia and applied double standards since none of the precautions required in the U.S. was implemented in Georgia. As a result organic farmers in Georgia could lose their best pest control tool and their organic status."
"Monsanto took advantage of the non-existent legislation of Georgia and applied double standards since none of the precautions required in the U.S. was implemented in Georgia."
Monsanto's transgenic "Naturemark" NewLeaf potatoes were imported to Georgia in 1996 under a seed potato project initiated by the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture received US$350,000 from the European Union Technical Assistance program to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) to buy these transgenic potato seeds. Apparently the EU had not been informed that the project involved transgenic crops.
The Monsanto potatoes turned out to be a financial disaster for the farmers.
The Monsanto potatoes turned out to be a financial disaster for the farmers. The yield was only one third to one half of that expected and as a result several farmers fell into debt. Greenpeace's investigation shows that the transgenic potatoes are now circulating in Georgia and in neighboring countries, Russia and Azerbaijan.
"This investigation is a good illustration of the need for international rules to control genetic engineering activities, especially the transboundary movements of genetically engineered organisms," said Louise Gale of Greenpeace International, currently attending the UN negotiations for a Bio-safety Protocol in Montreal. "We have always known that the agro-chemical industry will not act responsibly to protect biodiversity and human health unless there are binding rules to make them do so. Such rules must include a thorough environmental and health assessment based on the precautionary principle and deal with who will take responsibility if things go wrong."
Greenpeace is calling on Monsanto, the U.S., Georgia and the EU to recall immediately the transgenic potatoes and to compensate farmers for any losses they sustain as well as set up a compensation fund in Georgia to restore any potential damage to the environment.
"Monsanto has shown a cynical attitude in exploiting the lack of rules in this newly independent state. The genetech industry is placing pressure on governments across the world to weaken the Biosafety Protocol so that they can continue this sort of wild west approach. Greenpeace is appealing to governments not to succumb to these pressures and to place protection of biodiversity, including human health, first and foremost in their positions in these negotiations."
The full report is available on the internet site http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/
and upon request from Greenpeace International press desk.