GM crops "accidentally sown" across the UK

Revelation that Canadian seed imported over two years was contaminated sparks storm of protest

A storm of protest was unleashed in the UK yesterday, when it emerged that thousands of hectares of oilseed rape grown in 1999 and this year were contaminated by a genetically modified (GM) variety. Environmental and farmers groups and opposition parties have attacked the government, which had pledged not to allow commercial planting of GM crops until at least 2003, when a series of scientific trials will be completed (ENDS Daily 17 March).

The seed grown on some 13,700 hectares in the UK over the last two years was imported from Canada by Dutch-owned seed firm Advanta. The affected Hyola varieties were also sold in several other EU countries. It appears that the firm's seed stock was contaminated from nearby fields planted with an oilseed rape variety incorporating herbicide tolerance genes engineered by biotechnology firm Monsanto. Advanta first learned of the contamination in early April when it was contacted by a German laboratory.

British environmental groups have reacted with fury to the news. Greenpeace today called for all affected crops to be pulled up and for Advanta to be forced to pay compensation for any losses. It demanded an immediate ban on imports of rape seed until suppliers can guarantee GM free and called for Advanta to be prosecuted for breaching the EU's 1992 directive on "deliberate release" of GM organisms.

Advanta stressed that it had informed government departments in affected countries as soon as it had learned of the contamination and had stopped sales of Hyola varieties. The company added that it was satisfied that regulations had not been breached, noting that contamination levels were under 1%. This happens to be the threshold for food below which EU law does not require consumers to be informed of the presence of GM material (ENDS Daily 12 January).

Follow Up:
Advanta Seeds UK, tel: +44 1529 304 511; Friends of the Earth press release.

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