19 May 2000
GM rape crop may be worthless

By Johann Tasker

THOUSANDS of hectares of genetically modified oilseed rape accidentally grown by hundreds of British farmers may be worthless.

Crushers are refusing to say whether they will buy rape grown from about 100 tonnes of contaminated seed supplied by Lincolnshire-based Advanta Seeds.

The lack of a clear commitment from the crushers creates a dilemma for about 600 farmers who have unwittingly grown the GM rape on up to 15,000ha.

Growers must choose between destroying their crops or continuing to grow them in the hope they will find a market after the rape is harvested this summer.

Farmers sowed about 4700ha of GM-contaminated rape this spring. About 9000ha were sown with the infected stocks in the UK last year.

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But individual crushers are reluctant to talk, and are referring all enquiries on the matter to their industry body, the Seed Crushers and Oil Processors Association.

A statement from the association acknowledges that the “vast majority” of oilseed rape grown in the UK in 1999 has now been crushed or exported.

But it is refusing to say whether it will buy any rape it suspects has been grown this year from contaminated Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401 seeds.

The association says it is liaising with the government and other sectors in the supply chain to ensure the rape it supplies will be acceptable to consumers.

“We are urging the government to take urgent action to maintain customer confidence in the non-GM status of European rapeseed,” says the statement

Phone calls to the associations London office early on Friday (19 May) were met with the response that nobody was able to comment until Tuesday (23 May).

The government and Advanta Seeds have insisted that the rape is safe for human consumption. But the public remains hostile to GM food.

Advanta officials have been criticised for waiting two weeks at the height of the sowing season before telling the government its seeds were contaminated.

Supplies of the seed were sent to farmers in Britain, France, Sweden and Germany, the company confirmed.

Governments in both Britain and France have so far dismissed calls from environmentalists for the contaminated crops to be destroyed.

But Swedens Board of Agriculture said it was likely that producers who were growing the infected seed would have to destroy the plants.

In Germany, only about 250-280ha (618-692 acres) have been sown, concentrated in the southern region of Baden-Wurttenberg.

Only one batch of about 2000kg is thought to have been imported, about 800kg of which was recalled as soon as the trader knew there was a problem.

A spokesman for the German farmers union said that it was unlikely any of the harvested oilseed would find its way into the human food chain.

He added: “The co-op which distributed the seed has agreed that all the harvested oilseed will be used for bio-diesel production.”