ORGANIC farmers in Spain are abandoning maize after traces of genetically modified strains (GMO) were found in the crop, a recently published report shows.

Although the amount of GMO contamination is less than 1 per cent, farmers believe bigger problems lie ahead with market prices dropping.

Aragon is the centre of Spanish organic maize growing. According to the region’s organic farmers’ union CAAE, of the 120 hectares of organic maize planted there in 2004 all but 37 showed traces of GMOs – 32 per cent of the total crop yield. The figure rose for last year’s crop (40 per cent containing traces of GMOs). This year’s harvest is currently being tested.

Under Spanish law, conventional maize has to be labelled as genetically modified if sample tests show the crop contains more than 0.9 per cent of GMO material.

However, an organic crop must show zero levels of gene modified material for it to retain its organic label and subsequent higher market price.

Gene modified maize accounts for 12 per cent of all the maize grown in Spain (a little more than 58,000 hectares), all of which is destined for the animal feed industry.

Major GMO seed producer Monsanto said cross-pollination between GMO and non-modified maize was possible when the two are planted next to each other.

CAAE spokesman David Olmo confirmed organic maize farmers in the region are financially suffering.

“In Aragon, many organic maize crops have been disqualified because they were found to be containing more than 0.03 per cent GMO.

“This forces farmers to sell their organic maize as standard. So, instead of 20 centimos a kilo for their harvest they receive 15 centimos.”

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