19 May 2000

GMcrops fiasco could hit farm incomes badly

By Isabel Davies

and Johann Tasker

HUNDREDS of farmers could be left £ thousands out of pocket after unwittingly growing up to 15,000ha (37,000 acres) of GM-contaminated crops.

Advanta Seeds UK this year supplied about 500 farmers with enough seed to grow about 4500ha (11,250 acres) of GM-contaminated oilseed rape. Enough contaminated Advanta seed to grow up to 9000ha (22,500 acres) was sold in 1999. The varieties in question are Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401.

The seeds were sown despite a government ban on commercial GM varieties. The fiasco means farmers have been left with contaminated land without having any choice over whether to grow GM crops. It remains to be seen whether crushers will buy any harvested crop suspected of being contaminated later this summer.

Advanta told FARMERS WEEKLY that it learned on Apr 3 that some batches of seed it had imported from Canada had contained up to 1% of GM material. But according to a MAFF press release, it waited a further fortnight before notifying the government on Apr 17.

Bram van der Have, Advanta arable crops manager, said the company would set up an information line for worried grower. But there was no question of compensation, even though Advanta waited two weeks at the height of the spring sowing period before going public on the scandal.

Mr van der Have said he didnt know which farmers had bought the seed but believed about 500 producers were affected. He added: "This is an issue which the government has said is not a threat to health. We do not believe there is any reason to think yields will be lower or the crop unsaleable. Therefore we do not believe that compensation is the issue."

A spokeswoman for the NFU said that the union "deplores any unnotified sale of GM material which farmers have purchased in good faith as GM-free".

The Advanta revelation emerged just hours before the Prince of Wales was set to launch another high-profile attack on the "potentially disastrous consequences" of GM crops. Prince Charles was due to tell a BBC Reith lecture that any rush into GM technology meant "literally nothing was sacred".

During the speech, the Prince was expected to accuse scientists and biotechnology companies of treating the world like a giant laboratory. According to media reports, he is scathing about the amount of money spent on GM technology and wants more investment in traditional agriculture.