19 May 2000
‘Zero tolerance of GM impossible’

ZERO tolerance of genetically modified material is an impossible standard, claims the company at the centre of the GM contaminated oilseed row.

This follows the revelation that farmers in Europe unwittingly planted rape seed containing 1% genetically modified organisms. In Britain, following the blunder by Advanta Seeds UK, up to 15,000 hectares of GM oilseed rape was planted with contaminated varieties of Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401.

Groups calling for zero tolerance of GM technology want the crops located and destroyed.

The EU does not have a threshold over which seed is felt to be contaminated, so effectively the acceptable level is zero.

But Advanta Seeds Canada general manager Howard Morris said zero was unrealistic, as there was always a risk of cross-pollination. “Zero in a biological sense is not an acceptable standard, its an impossible standard, he told the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme.

Mr Morris called for the government to set up standards which companies can work towards.

He believes the EU 1% threshold for GM parts in food and commodities should be extended to seed.

Derek Burke, former chairman of the novel foods advisory committee said the zero limit concept comes from campaigning groups and organic farmers.

“Frankly its a campaigning position rather than a safety position. We have to face up to the fact that were a global world and we cant opt out of the world.”

Prof Burke called for the government to take a robust but open stance.

“Were in danger of driving ourselves into a self-induced paranoia driven by green groups, driven by the residue of BSE, driven by fears of the unknown.

“Theres no way anybody in this world can be offered no risk.

“What we can do is look for evidence of risk and be absolutely open and straightforward about that.”