23 August 2002

GM seed firm in hot water

AVENTIS Crop Science may face legal action after contaminating fields with unauthorised genetically modified seeds.

The blunder saw seed containing 2.8% of unauthorised varieties planted across 12 GM trial sites in England and two in Scotland.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said the government was considering prosecuting the company. "This issue demonstrates our need to be vigilant with quality control.

"The government has asked for an investigation and if the conclusion shows that consent conditions have been breached a prosecution may result."

Aventis company executives dismissed suggestions that they faced up to five years in jail and unlimited fines.

Aventis seeds manager Paul Rylott insisted: "These seeds have full commercial clearance. The only thing stopping us growing them commercially is a voluntary agreement to wait until after the field-scale trials have been evaluated."

But DEFRA disagreed, saying that unauthorised seed had been introduced. None of the crops under evaluation had the necessary regulatory approvals for commercial use.

"DEFRA had not given its consent to allow a variety with the antibiotic marker gene to be used in the trials," said a DEFRA spokeswoman. &#42