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US Court Decision Damns Genetic Diversity Of Crops

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today said a US court decision on the contamination of crops from neighbouring genetically engineered plants had massive implications for farmers in New Zealand as well as the genetic diversity of crops all around the world.

Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser - who testified at the Royal Commission into genetic modification in New Zealand earlier this year - has been ordered to pay Monsanto around $80,000 after the company's genetically engineered canola was found growing on his fields. Pollen from neighbouring GE crops had blown onto Mr Schmeiser's fields and contaminated the seed he traditionally saves from his conventional crops.

This herbicide resistant canola is the same crop Monsanto was planning to release in New Zealand in 1999, but the company did not proceed with the application.

"The judge has ruled that, under the international law of patents, if somebody contaminates your seeds you are liable," said Ms Fitzsimons. "This decision has major implications for farmers around the world and what it shows very clearly is that conventional crops and GE crops cannot co-exist side by side," she said.

"It means that farmers like Percy Schmeiser can no longer collect their seeds from the last growing season to plant again if there is any possibility that the crops may have been contaminated from neighbouring genetically engineered crops.

"This decision forces farmers to keep going back to multi-national seed companies year after year to buy their seed - either GE or conventional - because if their crops are ever contaminated then they will be in the bizarre situation of having to pay the patent owner of the contaminating seed."

Ms Fitzsimons said that in any countries where GE crops were planted this decision would now make it extremely difficult to breed unique heritage crops from seed which has been collected for generations.

"This decision is a disaster for the genetic diversity of crops all around the world and a godsend for the biotech companies and the multinational seed sellers," she said.

"Above all this decision should sound very loud warning bells for New Zealand farmers. If genetically engineered crops are ever planted here and pollen transfer contaminates their crops then they will have to pay for that unwanted contamination up front and in all probability suffer through a slumping value of the crop.

"This vindicates the position the Greens put to the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification that no living GE organisms - which would include all crops and farm animals - be allowed outside the laboratory."

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