30 June 2000

Compensation deal looms for accidental GM seed planting

A COMPENSATION deal for farmers who unknowingly planted rapeseed contaminated with genetically modified seed could be agreed by the end of July.

Bram van der Have of Advanta Seeds, the company which introduced the contaminated seed to the UK, said: "We should have proposals back from the farming unions in Sweden, Scotland, England and France in the next 10 days and will have something with farmers by late July."

But Advanta has not ruled out the possibility of seeking compensation from the companies which developed the genetically modified traits that were found to have contaminated its Hyola spring rape seed varieties.

"It is not yet clear that the biotechnology companies did not have a responsibility to advise us on the need for greater separation distances," said Mr van der Have.

At least two GM traits have been identified in Hyola seed, he acknowledged. But he was adamant that seed admix was not to blame. "The seed processing plants were entirely free of GM seed and we have not been able to identify any admix."

Seed production had exceeded the guidelines given by the Canadian authorities and the technology companies that had introduced the GM crops he explained. Separation distances were 1600m not the 800m required. What is unclear is whether the biotechnology companies should have advised seed producers that still greater separation distances were required.

It also emerged that in 1998 Advanta started shifting Hyola production, including Hyola 401, away from the area of Canada where the problems arose. That was partly because the company realised contamination could happen and because it was getting more difficult to achieve the desired separation distances, said Mr van der Have.

Whether Hyola brands are marketed next year now largely hinges on seed trade support. GM-free seed stocks are available, and could be tested for compliance with EU standards once those are agreed, he said. "It now depends on commercial decisions – whether the trade will support the varieties and what the risk is of importing more contaminated seed." &#42

Charles Abel