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I am often asked whether GM crops and whether Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) are related. The following article was carried in DW-World.De agruculture on 15th February 2011. 

The European Union’s highest court may classify honey containing traces of genetically modified material as “food produced” from modified plants. Such a ruling may enable beekeepers with hives close to GM crops to seek damages.

Beekeepers with hives close to fields of Monsanto genetically modified maize can’t sell their honey in the European Union without regulatory approval, an adviser to the European Court of Justice has said. The presence of honey “even of a minute quantity of pollen” from the maize is reason enough to restrict its sale. Advocate General Yves Bot told the court last week.

“Food containing material form a genetically modified plant, whether that material is included intentionally or not, must always be regarded as ‘food produced’ from modified plants, “said Bot. Acting as an independent adviser to the court, he was tasked with suggesting a ruling based on previous EU decisions. If the EU tribunal follows Bot’s advice, which it is expected to do, the ruling could have consequences across the bloc. This would be a huge success for “anyone wanting to prevent food and animal feed from being more and more contaminated with genetically modified material” said Ache Willand, a lawyer representing food producers. “Beekeepers are especially susceptible because bees collect the pollen of GM plants within a radius of three to five kilometres” he told Deutsche Welle.

Monsanto’s genetically modified corn type MON 810 has not been authorised for sale on the European food market. If new regulations are established, making it impossible for beekeepers to sell their product because it has been contaminated by pollen from MON 810 crops, the beekeepers may be able to claim damages from Monsanto.

“Yves Bot didn’t use the word, but the opinion basically translates into a zero tolerance policy” said Thomas Radetzki, an advocate for German beekeepers against genetic engineering in agriculture. It would mean that any produce with even the slightest trace of genetically modified crop would become a GM food product, with all the consequences.

Beekeeper Karl-Heinz Bablok, from Kaisheim near Augsburg in Southern Germany, originally brought the case to court. His hives were two kilometres away from fields where research was being conducted with Monsanto’s MON810 maize. He went to court trying to get the research stopped or get protection for hiss produce. Researchers argued that the bees weren’t interested in pollen from Maize. In an attempt to prove the researchers wrong, Bablok put his hives 500 metres away from the maize fields. He had to throw away the honey his bees produced, because he found it was contaminated with traces of GM pollen.

Thomas Radetzki of the beekeepers’ action group said beekeepers who have hives close to GM crop fields have not had enough protection, despite the existence of protective laws. Currently, Monsanto is banned from testing its maize in Germany. Meanwhile, the beekeepers’ case is being watched closely by the agricultural sector. “If we’re successful, others may follow, and then the matter may be brought to other national courts too” Said Radetzki.

Achim Willand, the lawyer representing food producers, said the Advocate General’s suggested ruling could have implications for anyone seeking permission to grow genetically modified plants in the EU.
But Thomas Radetzki said, while opponents of GM crops may be pleased at the moment, the case hadn’t been won yet. Advocate General Yves Bot based his suggested ruling on laws which are in place right now. Radetzki warned that, even if the EU tribunal were to follow Bot’s advice, “the EU Commission can always change its law. Then we’d have to start from scratch.”

Author Nina Haase (Bloomberg, taz)
Editor Saroja Coelho


The zero tolerance standards are alive and well in Western Australia. Read about a current issue which is unfolding in this State in 2011.

On 25th January 2010 the Western Australian Liberal government announced their decision to allow commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) canola. This decision angered many farmers and the public. Media reports suggest some sections of the farming community welcomed the decision, but in its first permitted year in the West, GM canola accounted for just 8% of the total canola plantings.

The 2010 season saw approximately 72,000 hectares of GM canola over a wide area. It is believed that the severe winds experienced in February 2011 – which led to bushfire disasters which gained worldwide attention - put millions of hectares of non-GM crop land at risk of contamination from GM canola. 

In December 2010 Steve Marsh, an organic farmer in Kojonup Western Australia, had GM canola blown onto his property from a neighbouring farm. Approximately 70% of Mr Marsh’s property is now contaminated. His organic certification has been suspended by the certifying body, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (Inc), putting his livelihood and whole harvest into limbo.

Fortunately Steve had taken precautions to declare his property GM free and had gone to the expense of setting up signs and getting legal advice. He has consequently started a legal action against his GM neighbour following confirmation of GM contamination from the WA Dept of Agriculture. Biotech Monsanto has stated that it will support the GM famer’s legal action and the Pastoralists & Graziers Association (WA) Inc has agreed to pay the respondent neighbours legal fees supported by the W.A. Liberal government. Monsanto, the main company responsible for developing and promoting GMOs, has insisted on “no-liability” agreements with participating farmers, making the company immune from persecution or liability for any “fall out” from its products. 

In an appalling abrogation of responsibility, WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has followed Monsanto’s lead in blaming the organic certifier for Mr Marsh’s losses. This demonstrates the extent to which the minister is an advocate for multinational chemical companies before he is a defender of WA farmers. The property rights of farmers have been trampled in Monsanto’s push to infiltrate and further dominate Australian agriculture. Mr Redman has merely stepped aside and allowed this to happen. In a statement by Mr Redman “.... zero per cent thresholds are unrealistic in biological systems”. Yet on 11 March 2010, when announcing an end to the GM canola ban, he said “the trials proved GM and non GM canola can be segregated and marketed separately. Approximately 22 shires (including 5 out of 8 shires in Redman’s electorate) declared themselves GM free zones, as Minister Redman earlier said he “would honour the wishes” of communities to wanted to remain GM Free. He later reneged on that promise, saying to a group of farmers from Williams who wanted to declare their shire a GM free zone “if I do that for you I would have to do it for everyone”.

Australian consumers have overwhelmingly rejected GE foods. To quote from Greenpeace’s vision statement which we wholeheartedly support: “We are working to ensure that the majority of the Australian food industry has removed GM from their food chain and that agriculture industries are GE free. We support a vision which sees food grown locally by people for people. Who have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food and farmers are recognised as custodians of biodiversity.”
A group of organic farmers in WA who are certified organic by NASAA (the same organization as Steve Marsh) have banded together to start a benefit fund to help Steve pay his legal fees which, as you can imagine, are enormous. He has very bravely taken this course knowing that he may well have to sell his farm and we don’t want him to have to do this. This is a test case and the result will have a huge influence on the future of organics in this state and the whole of Australia.

Media Advisory: Performers rally round organic farmer

What: Benefit concert for organic farmer Steve Marsh
Where: The Fly By Night, Fremantle
When: 7pm, Saturday 16th April 2011

International and Western Australian performers are rallying round to support organic farmer Steve Marsh, who has lost his organic certification due to contamination with genetically modified (GM) canola. The performers will play a fundraising concert to support Steve’s cause at The Fly By Night in Fremantle. Performers at the concert include Emily Barker (UK), Dilip and the Davs (Fremantle), Jacob from Dream State Circus (Fremantle), The Majik Trolls (Nannup), Lydian’sTilt (Bridgetown), Dom Coyote (UK) and Tribalive (South Fremantle).

Steve Marsh lost his organic certification, and the market for his product, when GM canola blew in over the fence from his neighbour’s paddock. Under the current law the only way that Steve can recoup his losses is to sue his GM growing neighbour, who is being supported by GM giant Monsanto. Already Steve’s legal fees amount to tens of thousands of dollars and he accepts he will probably lose his family farm in this legal battle.

The concert is being organised by a coalition of organic farmers and consumers. One of the organisers of the concert - Bee Winfield, an organic farmer from Nannup, says “it’s appalling that Steve is having to go to these lengths to protect his livelihood. The WA Government should never allowed the growing of GM canola in WA in the first place. We’re glad to see that so many people have rallied round to support Steve though.”

UK based singer songwriter Emily Barker, who is originally from Bridgetown says “I am opposed to the ban being lifted on GM canola crops in Western Australia. Organic farmers like Steve need our support.”

Ed Strattford from The Majik Trolls who also grows organic, heritage fruit & vegetables says “the fact that our government is willing to inflict this technology on us against our wishes, only proves that they are a government for corporations, not a government for the people. Steve Marsh could be any one of us unlucky enough to have a foolish neighbour and is deserving of our most determined support.”

Other performers such as Michael Franti, The Cat Empire and Dave Mann who weren’t able to play at the concert, due to other commitments, have donated merchandise to be auctioned at the event.

Front man/trumpeter Harry Angus from the Cat Empire says “We want clean air, water, and food. That’s why we are supporting organic farmers in this way”.

Despite polls showing that the majority of Western Australians do not want GM canola grown in the state, the WA Government allowed the GM canola ban to be lifted last year. The contamination of Steve Marsh’s farm is the first reported case of GM contamination in the state.

Media contact
Louise Sales, media officer: 0435 589 579


“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man
would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination,
no more plants, no more animals, no more man”

quote attributed to Albert Einstein

Because we make beeswax candles and regularly attend the Perth City Farm Organic market the future of the honeybee, nature’s master pollinator, is a concern expressed by many visitors to the market. We talk about the industrialisation of pollination and what this means to the humble apis mellifera (Western honeybee); the mysterious cause of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), and an increase in predators such as the varroa mite. If you wish to pursue reading on this subject can we refer you to an illuminating book called “A World Without Bees” by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum published by Guardian Books - some extracts from the book are summarised below:

If the honeybee disappeared off the face of the earth, how would our weekly food shop change? It would become shorter, very bland and lacking in nutrition. Off would come the honey, fruit (except bananas and pineapples), most vegetables along with protein rich beans, meat and dairy products. Without bees to pollinate crops grown for cattle and pigs, no steak or bacon, cheese, milk and ice cream. Honeybees dramatically increase yields of coffee so this would be in limited supply and very expensive. And only a couple of cooking oils – walnut and olive – would remain. With fewer sources of protein available it would not take long for all fish stocks to be plundered. The list goes on and on. Approximately one-third of the average diet (90 commercial crops) has been pollinated by the honeybee. According to a study by Cornell University this makes honeybee pollination worth more than an estimated US$60 billion a year (2007).

Predators which attack bees include foulbrood, chalkbrood; Nosema apis; Nosema cerana; the tracheal mite Acarapis woodi and the Varroa mite which developed Varroa destructor specifically to attack apis mellifera (to date, our understanding is that Varroa Destructor has not reached Australian shores yet). The honeybee is definitely under siege.

CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) is a catastrophe which appears to replicate enigmas which have occurred since 1869. The disappearance and death of bees the four main characteristics being the disappearance of colonies with plenty of honey stores, the queen still alive, most of the bees usually dieing in the field and most cases occurring in the spring or autumn when the weather is cool. However CCD has wiped out more than a third of all honeybees in the US and possibly millions more across the globe since 2006. This is alarming given our current and increasing world population; the industrialisation of pollination and a possible lack of genetic diversity whereby bees have been selected for high honey yields, colony growth early in the year and gentle behaviour leading possibly to high mortality rates.

In summary therefore:
“A third of all that we eat, and much of what we wear, relies on pollination by honeybees. So if - or when – the world loses its black and yellow workers, the consequences will be dire. What is behind this catastrophe? Could it be viruses, or parasites? Or perhaps modern farming practices such as the widespread use of pesticides? Or is climate change to blame? Is there any possible way of saving honeybees – and, with them, the world as we know it?”
  (Benjamin and McCallum, "A World Without Bees", Guardian Books 2007)

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