Press Release, 30 April 2004
Friends of the Earth Europe
Coalition against BAYER-dangers
Today´s shareholder meeting in Cologne
BAYER URGED TO QUIT GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD
Today civil society groups from Germany and beyond, together representing more than a half million people, are organising several actions on the doorstep of Bayers annual shareholdersmeeting in Cologne. The protesters are strongly opposing Bayers involvement in genetically modified foods. The activists are also present inside the meeting. They have bought Bayer shares, which gives them the opportunity to personally address Bayers board and an estimated 7000 shareholders.
The protester want to make Bayers shareholders aware that the involvement of Bayer in GM foods over the last two and a half years has not delivered any of the promises made. Since Bayer entered the GM food business by taking over Aventis CropScience in early October 2001, these foods have brought the company nothing but trouble. Two of the most recent examples are:
· Just one month ago Bayer discontinued efforts to commercialize GM maize in the UK, after the government had placed “a number of constraints on the maize. The news led to a drop of 1.9 % in Bayers share.
· In January the Belgian authorities rejected an application by Bayer for the commercialisation of GM oilseed rape, after it was demonstrated that the cultivation of the crop causes “a loss of biodiversity.
Meanwhile, more and more questions are being raised over the safety of GM foods. Just three days ago EU agricultural ministers rejected an application for the import of GM maize during a meeting in Luxembourg. According to official EU data 70 % of EU citizens does not want to eat GM food. In March of this year the British Medical Association issued a statement saying that they “see the need for further debate about the social and health risks potentially associated with GM foods.
Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe said: “It is about time that Bayer faces reality. GM foods are a failure. They are a risk to human health and the vast majority of consumers in Europe does not want them. Bayer needs to quit producing and selling GM foods as soon as possible.
Philipp Mimkes of the Coalition against BAYER-dangers: “Not only are GM foods bad for the environment, they are also a risk to investors. We are urging the shareholders today to use their influence to push Bayer out of genetically engineered food.
BACKGROUND: BAYERs MOST CONTROVERSIAL GM FOODS:
Genetically modified maize Chardon LL. Recently Bayer CropScience announced that it has decided to discontinue further efforts to commercialise its GM forage maize variety, Chardon LL, in the UK. The decision came after a wide range of civil society groups and individuals in the UK had protested for years against the placing of the maize on the National List of Agricultural Varieties (the Seed List). Over 220 groups (among them local governments, farmersorganisations and big environmental associations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and individuals submitted objections and over 60 appeared at the Chardon LL hearing, organised by the UK government, in 2000 and 2002. As a result of these citizens objections the commercialisation of Bayers maize was delayed and new and worrying facts about the safety of the maize and the regulatory process came to light for the first time. Independent scientists form Bristol University described the safety testing done by Aventis (that was later bought by Bayer) as follows: “the reporting and the design are wholly inadequate and this became really obvious after only five minutes of reading.
Genetically modified oilseed rape MS8xRF3. In its application to the EU requesting the commercialisation of this oilseed rape Bayer has claimed that “Adaptations of cultivation and management techniques for the genetically modified oilseed rape are limited to changes in herbicide use, without any adverse environmental impact. These claims have recently been proven false after the publication of peer reviewed and government sponsored studies in the UK. The results of these so called Farm Scale Evaluations show that Bayers genetically modified oilseed rape causes more damage to wildlife than conventionally grown oilseed rape. Biomass and seed rain of non-crop plants in the GM spring oilseed rape was five times less than it is found in conventional spring oilseed rape. This means that in and around fields where genetically modified oilseed rape is grown there will be less food for birds. The researchers who undertook the four year study concluded that “GMHT (Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant) cropping of beet and especially spring oilseed rape will provide fewer nectar recourses for pollinators and fewer weed seeds recourses for granivorous birds. Meanwhile Bayers apllication to grow GM oilseed rape has been rejected by the Belgian authorities who are stating that it was demonstrated that the cultivation of the crop causes “a loss of biodiversity. The EU approval process for Bayers oilseed rape is still pending, but the chances that it will get approved without severe restrictions can be considered very low.
Genetically modified rice LL62. Bayers EU application requesting the import of this rice for human and animal consumption is in an initial stage, but already heavily criticised by civil society groups and scientists. For example Friends of the Earth – after carefully scrutinizing Bayers own studies on the rice- have pointed out that a substantial increase in the amount of compounds responsible for allergic reactions have been found in LL62 rice. Objections to the rice are also raised by scientists from abroad. For example Dr Suman Sahai of Genecampaign (India) has recently written that Bayers GM rice could pose a “very critical threat of genetic contamination in rice diversity areas and “jeopardise the principal food source of Indian people. In the US, where LL62 rice has recently received an authorisation for commercial growing, problems for the rice are also mounting. Californian farmers are afraid they will be forced out of business, if Japanese consumers find out that GM rice is grown in the US. These fears seems real, after Japans consul in California has issued a statement saying that “Concerning Californias (genetically engineered) rice production issue, Japanese consumers have a serious concern in regards to food safety.
Bayer´s sales in Bioscience only amount to 270 million euro in 2003. This is less than 1 % of Bayers total sales. From the Geschäftsbericht it is unclear if genetically engineered foods and crops are profitable for Bayer, but it is for sure that many recent investments (such as in GM maize in the UK) in this highly controversial area will not pay off in the foreseeable future.