Say No To GMOs! logo

Iowa Bills Fight GM Free Zones and Farmer Choice

By Jeffrey M. Smith
Institute for Responsible Technology
February 2005

Whenever large agribusiness or their political representatives come up with a new farm strategy to save local farmers, watch out. It seems that more small farmers suffer while agribusiness prospers. The latest proposal is a bill before Iowa legislators that would prevent local jurisdictions from creating identity preservation zones.

Using identity preservation (IP), farmers keep crop varieties separate from others to meet purity requirements of their buyers. Iowa farmers, for example, may earn an extra $8.50 – $15.50 per bushel for organic soybeans. Non-GM beans bring in about $0.50 more than GM varieties, and non-GM food grade raise that to $2.00. Several specialty varieties comprise the approximately 5 percent of total US corn acreage that is IP, including an extractable starch corn grown for Japanese breweries by 60 southeast Iowa farmers.

While low commodity corn and soybean prices contributed to the 22 percent reduction of Iowa’s mid-size farms between 1997 and 2002, IP niche marketing keeps many profitable. IP crops also can bypass the “normal” big agribusiness marketing channels.

Contamination is a key challenge to IP growers. Unwanted varieties may cross-pollinate or get mixed up in the seed, harvest equipment, or during storage and transport. Some farm regions create entire zones that exclude unwanted varieties, where all the farms, and if possible all collection and distribution points, only handle approved grain.

The current bills before the Iowa house (HF 202) and senate (1144) would disallow local jurisdictions from regulating the sale or production of seeds. The reason? They are trying to prevent Iowa farmers from creating GM-free zones. These zones, which do not allow the cultivation of genetically modified crops, are being created at an accelerated rate on all continents, including the US. They provide farmers easier access to the significant world markets that avoid the controversial technology.

The introduction of GM crops in 1996 was heralded by agribusiness as the key to greater profits, but the opposite ensued. Europe cut off its $300 million corn purchases. Japan soy orders dropped by nearly 25 percent. Lowered prices for GM commodities boosted U.S. subsidies by an estimated $2-3 billion per year. Even the threat of GM wheat being introduced rallied the industry to try to make North America a GM-wheat-free-zone.

If Iowans knew before 1996 about the loss of GM markets, they could have created GM-free zones. If they knew before 1999 that A.E. Staley and ADM would not take varieties of GM corn not approved in the EU, they could have created EU-approved zones. If they realized that StarLink was not approved for human consumption, they could have created StarLink-free zones before its discovery in taco shells prompted the recall of more than 300 brands and massive economic damage to the farm sector.

It’s hard to predict the future, but there are clear trends. Organic agriculture is the only sector bounding ahead at a double digit growth rate. Iowa has about 900 organic grain farmers—one of the largest contingents in the Midwest—and many others are testing the waters.

GM markets continue to dry up with the consistent finding that the more people learn about the technology, the less they trust it. Now, even GM animal feed markets are shrinking overseas due to consumer demand for GM-free meat. Many EU retailers promise this to their buyers and as of February 10, 2005, three major Australian poultry producers are also refusing GM feed. An ISU economist projected that if GM wheat were introduced here, 30-50 percent of our foreign markets would go elsewhere and wheat prices would drop by a third. This could put wheat into competition with corn as a feed grain.

And we also know that Iowa hosts field trials of GM varieties unapproved for the market. The most threatening of these is the corn engineered to create pharmaceuticals. In 2002, 155 acres in Pocahontas County had to be destroyed because of “pharm” corn contamination. If drug-producing corn got mixed up in the food supply, the debacle could eclipse StarLink.

Looking at current trends, farmers may decide to create a pharm-corn free zone, an organic corridor, an approved-variety-only sector, a non-GM marketing zone, or any one of a number of zones to capitalize on any future trend, GM-related or not. Zones can give farmers greater control, greater profits, and better protection. The Iowa bills, however, would prevent all that. If they pass, biotech companies would be the winner and Iowa farms and communities would be the loser.

To view a sampling of possible future news stories with and without these laws in place, go to

These bills are being debated during the first week in March, 2005 (at least). For Iowans wanting to contact state representatives on this issue, visit Non-Iowans please forward this to your Iowa friends.


Environmentalists Claim Modified Corn Included in U.N. Aid

By Sergio De Leon
Associated Press
February 16, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY -- Environmental groups said Wednesday they have discovered that banned genetically modified food -- including a variety of corn forbidden for humans in the United States -- is being handed out in U.N. food aid to Central America and the Caribbean.

A study backed by the international group Friends of the Earth found that samples of World Food Program shipments collected in Guatemala included StarLink, a corn long ago pulled from the market in the United States because of concerns it could provoke allergic reactions.

Discovery of StarLink corn in consumer products in the United States prompted several high-profile supermarket recalls of cornmeal, corn dogs, taco shells, soup and chili mixes in the United States in 2000 and 2001.

The study looked at 77 samples of imported corn included in aid shipments or sold on the open market. Eighty percent was reported to include genetically modified material.

Some of the samples here showed a Monsanto-developed variety which is restricted by the European Union, member of the Central American Alliance in Defense of Biodiversity told a news conference here.

"We have alarming news about the food aid that the country is receiving," said Mario Godinez, director of the local environmental group Ceiba.

Similar news conferences occurred simultaneously in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador as part of an international campaign against the growing use of genetically modified crops. Many activists say they are a risk to health and to the environment. Backers say they provide more and cheaper food to the world and say no health risks have been proven.

Julio Sanchez of the Humboldt Center in Nicaragua said the World Food Program "is placing at risk our children and pregnant women, the most vulnerable people in our society."

In a Friends of the Earth news release, he said the programs should purchase food locally instead of importing modified foods from abroad.

In Rome, World Food Program spokeswoman Anthea Web said that "the U.N. WHO, FAO and ourselves have found absolutely no evidence there is any health safety issue" with genetically modified foods.

"They're eaten safely by millions of people everyday from Boston to Brussels to Buenos Aires," she said.

The director of Guatemala's National Coordinating Committee of Farm Organizations, Daniel Pascual, alleged that the introduction of genetically modified foods endangered the country's native varieties of corn as well as the health of consumers.

A spokeswoman for Guatemala's Agriculture Ministry, Maria del Carmen Fuentes, said she was unaware of the study, but added, "we are worried in any case and an expert in the area will be assigned to indicate as soon as possible what happened."

She insisted, however, that "at no moment would we harm the population."

"The investigation reveals the incapacity of the state to protect national biosecurity", said Adrian Pacheco, spokesman for Costa Rica's Social Ecology Association, at a news conference there. "Although the authorities have not authorized the cultivation of (modified) corn, for example, it is entering the country as a grain without any kind of control."

He called for a moratorium on genetically modified crop imports because they could be planted by local farmers and contaminate local varieties.

The WPA's Webb said that the decision on accepting foods "rests with the host government."

She that because most of the food aid comes from the United States, a center of modified food production, "We're really in a tough place" in trying to avoid modified foods.

Friends of the Earth complained in 2002 that it had found StarLink corn in U.S. aid shipments to Bolivia.


Mexico Approves Planting and Sale of GM Crops

By Karla Peregrina and Javier Crúz
February 22, 2005

MEXICO CITY - Mexico has passed legislation that authorises the planting and selling genetically modified (GM) crops. The Mexican congress's upper house (the Senate), passed the law on 15 February, with 87 votes in favour, 16 against and 6 abstentions.

Since it was proposed, the law has created considerable debate in Mexico and has practically split the country's scientific community in two.

The Senate drafted the law in April 2003 with input from the Mexican Academy of Sciences (AMC), the country's leading science organisation. However, some academy members were critical of the process and the academy's involvement.

"Any omissions we may have made in selecting the committee which represented the academy before Congress were without malice," said the academy's president, Octavio Paredes, in an interview with SciDev.Net. "At the time I did not sense any serious difference of opinion from within the academy."

René Drucker, coordinator of scientific research at Mexico's National University (UNAM), and former president of the AMC, disagrees.

"[The law] will bring no benefits to our country in the future," wrote Drucker in a letter to La Jornada last year following the law's approval by Mexico's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

Another letter to the same newspaper mocked the law, suggesting it should be named the "Law of Genetic Colonisation for the 21st Century". It was sent by Ignacio Chapela, the US-based Mexican biologist who first claimed that genes from other species had entered wild maize in Mexico (see GM maize found 'contaminating' wild strains).

Chapela's letter said the law served the interests of Mexico's elite, "which in turn represents economic and political interests from within and outside the country".

The law was also criticised by other researchers who oppose the import, distribution, release and consumption of genetically modified organisms in Mexico. Seventy researchers signed a full-page statement in the 8 December edition of La Jornada that said it was regrettable that the recommendations of a lengthy study by the Environment Cooperation Commission for North America had been ignored.

The study said action should be taken to reduce the risk of foreign genes spreading and to conserve the biodiversity of maize varieties in Mexico (see Warning issued on GM maize imported to Mexico).

Mexico's senators did, however, seek the advice of the scientists before drafting the law. Francisco Bolivar Zapata, another former AMC president and a senior researcher at UNAM's Biotechnology Institute, says that the chair of the Senate's science and technology commission, Rodimiro Amaya, explicitly asked the Mexican Academy of Sciences for advice.

Bolivar adds that the academy put together a group of 40 of experts "from all areas of knowledge and from various institutions" to prepare a draft of the biosecurity bill.

After three months of work, a document titled Basis and recommendations for a Mexican law on biosecurity of genetically modified organisms was presented to the Senate, which then incorporated the recommendations and approved the draft bill (in April 2003) before sending it to be debated by the Chamber of Deputies.

As well as permitting planting and sale of GM crops, the law covers the conservation of genetic resources, and calls for a special protection regime — yet to be determined — for varieties of maize native to Mexico, the crop's centre of diversity.

It also requires all GM products to be labelled according to guidelines to be issued by the Ministry of Health.

top of page