9 March 2001
French seed withdrawn over GM fears

By Donald MacPhail

A TOP-YIELDING variety of spring oilseed rape has been withdrawn from sale amid fears that it could be contaminated with genetically modified material.

Samples of hybrid variety Mistral may contain resistance to kanamycin, an the antibiotic used to treat infections when penicillin and less toxic drugs cant be used.

Antibiotic-resistant genes are used in GM crops so scientists can detect which cells have picked up the targeted transgene – such as a herbicide-tolerant gene.

This raises the possibility that Mistral seed, which is produced in France by seed company Serasem, could have been cross-pollinated by GM material.

“This might suggest that the seed has been genetically modified,” said a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF).

Contamination was at a level of one in 1000 and the MAFF statement added that, while the variety has also been tested for herbicide resistance, none has been found.

Resistance to kanamycin is common in soil micro-organisms, so it is possible that the test picked up a naturally occurring phenomenon, pointed out MAFF.

But while the Central Science Laboratory carries out tests to identify the source, Serasem has decided to withdraw Mistral.

The contaminated seed was discovered in a batch intended for use as a control variety, acting as a yardstick to gauge how new varieties perform.

A MAFF spokesman said: “Ten kilograms were brought into the country, none was planted and there is no chance it could get into the food chain.

“We are now checking to see if it was near a GM crop when it was growing.”

Mistral is marketed in the UK by plant breeders CPB. But operations director Theo Labuda said “virtually no” Mistral was sold in the country last year.

He added: “Weve been told [Serasem] have a suspicion there may be a problem which needs investigating further.”

CPB has another two Serasem oilseed rape varieties on its books, but Mr Labuda said seed from these would come from UK sources.

A spokesman for the Central Science Laboratory said tests on the batch of Mistral began on Tuesday (6 March) and were expected to take 10 working days.

Mistral was first grown commercially in the UK in 2000 and topped the 2001 Recommended List with an economic yield rating of 109.