18 May 2000
Rip up contaminated OSR, urge greens

By FWi staff

CALLS are growing for British farmers to destroy thousands of hectares of GM crops they unwittingly planted after a mistake by a biotechnology company.

Environmentalists made the demand after up to 15,000 hectares of GM oilseed rape was planted from seed supplied by Advanta Seeds UK.

Farmers sowed about 4700 hectares of oilseed rape this spring with GM-contaminated varieties of Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401 seeds.

About 9000 hectares were sown with the infected stocks in the UK in 1999, said Advanta Seeds. As many as 600 farms are thought to be affected.

The fiasco has outraged the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farming and has a zero-tolerance policy towards GM crops.

Harry Hadaway, Soil Association campaigns officer, said: “We want all these crops pulled up as soon as possible.”

Conventional farmers who planted oilseed rape believing it to be GM-free have now been left with contaminated land, Mr Hadaway added.

“Our standards say that if you have grown a GM crop, you cannot grow an organic crop on the same land for at least five years.”

Siôn Aron, commodities officer at the Farmers Union of Wales, said he too was concerned that farmers had unknowingly grown the contaminated crops.

“It is a matter of great regret that this GM seed has been released by mistake, and that farmers have become the unwitting victims of this unfortunate incident.”

The GM seed was mixed with the traditional seed in Canada by mistake. Contaminated batches were then sent to the UK, France, Germany and Sweden.

Media reports suggest that some seed harvested last year has now entered the food chain in a range of foods, including margarine, ice cream and chocolate.

Adrian Bebb, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, accused the government of keeping quiet about the matter for more than two weeks.

“The government has lost control,” he said. “The interests of the biotech companies have been put before the safety of the environment and the public.”

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said: “The Government cannot hide from this serious breach of the trust placed in them by farmers and consumers.”

He added: “It is crucial that ministers now reveal how long they have known about the situation and why they did not say anything earlier.”

Mr Yeo said the mistake should have never occurred and called on the government to publish details of where the crops are being grown.

“The public needs to be reassured that if these crops are not destroyed, then the environmental effects in the surrounding areas will be monitored.”