17 May 2000
Biotech company in GM seed fiasco
by Isabel Davies and Johann Tasker
BRITISH farmers have unwittingly planted up to 15,000 hectares of crops from genetically modified seed, the company Advanta Seeds UK has admitted.
Advanta supplied farmers with enough seed to grow about 4500 hectares 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.
A parliamentary written answer from junior farm minister Joyce Quin confirmed that farmers have used the contaminated seed for the past two years.
The fiasco means farmers have been left with contaminated land without having any choice over whether to grow GM crops.
Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether crushers will buy any harvested crop suspected of being contaminated later this summer.
Advanta said it learned on 3 April that some batches of seed it had imported from Canada contained up to 1% of GM material.
According to a MAFF press release, the company waited a further fortnight before notifying the government of the contamination on 17 April.
Bram van der Have, Advanta arable crops manager, said the company would set up an information line for the 500 worried growers he believed were affected.
But he ruled out 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 did not believe yields would be lower or the crop unsaleable. He added: We do not believe that compensation is the issue.
But 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.
If farmers are left with an unmarketable crop, then the union would seek legal advice on behalf of its members, the spokeswoman added.
The Advanta revelation emerged just hours before the Prince of Wales was set to launch an 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.