25 May 2000
Tories on the offensive over GM seed
By FWi staff
SHADOW agriculture minister Tim Yeo is to raise the controversy over genetically modified contaminated seed in the House of Commons.
Mr Yeo told Farmers Weekly he was concerned about new allegations that maize grown in Britain in contaminated with GM seed.
He said he took the allegations “very seriously” and would raise the matter during agricultural questions in the House on Thursday (25 May).
“I am astonished that the government didnt make immediate contact with all the leading seed importers when they were first warned on 17 April,” he said.
Maize contaminated with genetically modified seed has become the second crop suspected of being planted across thousands of hectares of farmland.
Maize containing up to 1% of GM-contaminated seed was planted this year on up to 1 million hectares across the Europe Union, according to Greenpeace.
The allegation comes as farmers decide what to do with up to 4500ha of GM oilseed rape planted from contaminated seed supplied by Advanta Seeds.
A letter has been sent to ministers by the European European Seed Associations, a Brussels-based umbrella body of national seed associations.
A copy of the letter seen by Farmers Weekly confirms that seed associations have agreed a 1% threshold for the GM material in non-GM seed.
It adds: “It is therefore to be expected that this voluntary code of conduct is currently being applied by all seed companies for the sale of maize seed in Europe.”
Mr Yeo added: “Any responsible minister concerned to protect the British environment and the interests of British farmers should immediately have made contact with all importers so these questions could be asked.
“We have now lost five weeks and goodness knows how much damage will be done, not just to the environment, but also to the position of many farmers whose market is dependent on being able to certify that they are supplying a non-GM product.”
A statement from Greenpeace said: “Greenpeace understands that for the maize seed planted this year, between 5% and 15% of the European crop is contaminated with GMOs affecting a total crop area of up to 975,000ha across the EU.”
A spokesman for Baroness Hayman said testing of GM would be set up early next month for imported seed and addressed through an international agreement.
He added: “We are seeking international standards on these matters.
“We are not aware of any adventitious presence [of GM material] other than the one in oilseed rape. That is the only one were aware of.”
Contamination of maize would be particularly devastating for organic farmers, who have a zero-tolerance policy towards GM material in GM food.
Harry Hadaway, campaigns officer for the Soil Association, which certifies the status of organic farms, echoed Mr Yeos concerns.
“If this is true, it shows that the government has failed to protect the right of farmers to grow GM-free food.
“It proves that the government has to get its finger out and introduce proper testing procedures and separation distances for GM crops.”