23 May 2000
Farmers start to plough in GM rape

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS are starting to destroy fields of genetically modified oilseed rape planted unknowingly from contaminated seed supplied by Advanta Seeds UK.

The move came as farmers leaders said they were in the process of writing a letter of complaint to ministers over the governments handling of the fiasco.

Advanta Seeds has admitted that up to 600 British farmers unknowingly planted as many as 4700ha of GM-contaminated rape this spring.

Arable grower John Sanderson became the first farmer to plough in 11ha of contaminated rape on his farm near Harleston, Norfolk on Tuesday (23 May).

Other producers fear they will be left with an unsaleable crop after crushers said they could give no undertaking to purchase any of the contaminated rape.

One farmer, who asked not to be named, said he expected to lose up to 12,000 after planting 16ha of GM rape on his farm in southern England.

Under farm subsidy rules, producers now have just eight days – until 31 May – to decide whether to destroy any of the GM rape and plant something else instead.

Richard Vidal, manager of legal services at NFU Services, the commercial arm of the National Farmers Union, indicated that other farmers will do so.

“Some people are deciding before the dust settles that they can get another crop in the ground before the planting deadline,” he said.

NFU Services has set up a hotline (0870 845 8458) manned by legal experts for farmers seeking advice on whether to destroy any contaminated rape.

Francis Mordaunt, of consultants Andersons, said any producer considering destroying the crops should first talk to their local Ministry of Agriculture office.

Producers should check the implications for subsidy claims, Mr Mordaunt said. If the crop was destroyed before it flowered, subsidies may be lost.

Ian Gardiner, NFU director general, said the union had formally written a letter of complaint to junior agriculture minister Baroness Hayman.

Many NFU members are unsure what to do and the government has issued little advice since the GM-rape blunder emerged last Wednesday (17 May).

Advanta Seeds has so far ruled out any compensation, claiming that it made an honest mistake in supplying the seed and no law had been broken.