18 May 2000
Advanta points to tardy regulation
GOVERNMENT regulations to minimise genetic contamination of conventional seeds should have been considered sooner, claims the company which mistakenly sold GM seeds to UK farmers.
Conventional rape seed planted on up to 15,000ha (37,000 acres) of crops were contaminated with GM seed, Advanta Seeds UK has admitted.
Advanta supplied farmers with enough seed to grow about 4500ha of GM contaminated oilseed rape. It sold enough seed to plant 9000ha in 1999.
The seeds were sown despite a government ban on commercial GM varieties. The Advanta varieties in question are Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401.
The same problem was reported in Sweden, France and Germany.
After the government admitted on Wednesday (17 May) that this had taken place, junior agriculture minister Baroness Hayman said new measures were being introduced.
There will be spot checks on seed imports and a code of practice to check sources of seed and monitor GM content, she told the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme.
But Mike Ruthven, general manager of Advanta said this should have been done earlier.
“In our view regulations could have been considered earlier,” he told Farming Today.
He said while labelling is required, if there is more than 1% GM presence in food, there is no requirement for seeds.
Mr Ruthven admitted regulations were complicated at international level because there were no recognised protocols, and different tests are used.
He added that it would never be possible to guarantee absolute purity, in GM or conventional varieties.
“We cant under any circumstances, nor can any other seed company, guarantee absolute freedom.”
Mr Ruthven admitted he did not know where the seed was planted.
He said Advanta was in the process of contacting distributors and setting up a helpline for growers, and asking them to register crops.
He was confident his company could trace the seed in time, because under seed regulations every bag carries a certification number.
Mr Ruthven insisted there was no need for crops to be destroyed.
“There are no risks at all to the environment and health. There is absolutely no reason why this crop should not be harvested in the normal way.”
Advanta believed there was a very low risk of cross-contamination, but could not guarantee this.
Baroness Hayman insisted there was no safety of environmental concerns, and said the contamination would not invalidate GM trials currently taking place.