GM corn scandal rocks industry

  • 2003-05-29
  • Aleksei Gunter

Estonia's first scandal over genetically modified products erupted last week when it was uncovered that unauthorized GM corn seeds had been sold to local farmers.

Older Grupp, a company owned by Siim Older, former adviser of the ex-Minister of Agriculture Jaanus Marrandi, had allegedly sold about 5,000 kilograms of imported genetically modified corn seeds to Estonian farmers this year without informing them of the seeds' true nature, the Aripaev daily reported on May 23.

The farmers were either about to plant the seeds in the next several weeks or had already done so, according to reports.

Many farmers said the corn harvested was to be used to feed cows whose milk is supplied to local dairies.

Ann Maripuu, communication officer of the environment commission under the Ministry of Environment, said no comments would be available until the investigation into the case was over.

However, the environment commission has confirmed the corn seeds Older sold to the farmers were genetically modified.

"The investigation is not finished yet, but we recommend the farmers who bought this GM corn not to sow it until our final decision," Maripuu said on May 26.

"Our first test confirmed the corn seeds contain genetically modified organisms. We are now going to carry out another test to guarantee the accuracy," she said.

Although GM corn is grown in EU countries, the seeds Older imported are still illegal because their qualifications were not marked, according to the commission.

Older's company may also face a fine of up to 30,000 kroons (2,000 euros).

Minister of Agriculture Tiit Tammsaar told Aripaev he did not exclude the option of eradicating corn on fields where GM seeds had been sowed.

Estonia is a member of an international treaty that restricts sale of GM products unless they are marked and bans GM seed use in agriculture.

There are no regulation on whether the milk from cows that were fed with GM plants must be labeled, but such a possibility is being discussed in the EU.

Jan-Roland Raukas, head of the plant cultivation department at the ministry, said milk from GM-corn fed cows should be safe for humans.

"First, no gene can be transfered from food, and second, plant genes cannot be transfered into an animal's organism," he said, adding that no GM plants have been registered in Estonia so far.

"It is not prohibited directly to sow any GM culture, but an importer must apply for a license from the Environment Ministry and wait for two years until the tests end," he explained.

"Besides, many GM plants will not grow in Estonia because of the climate," said Raukas.