Published on Thursday, May 19, 2000 by Reuters
Fury As GM Seeds of Discontent
Spread Over Europe
by Ralph Gowling
LONDON - France called Thursday for the
destruction of rapeseed crops contaminated by genetically
modified material as environmentalist fury swept across Europe
over how farmers had been sold ``Frankenstein seed.''
The controversy erupted when the Advanta company, which imported the seed from Canada, disclosed that farmers in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden were unwittingly growing oilseed rape contaminated with genetically modified (GM) material.
Environmental pressure groups warned the contamination could spread to other crops through wind-blown pollination and said there was a risk to public health. They demanded compensation for farmers.
France's Environment Minister Dominique Voynet called for the destruction of about 1,500 acres of rapeseed grown from seeds contaminated by GM material and demanded an inquiry into how GM seeds had been mixed with normal ones.
``Dominique Voynet calls for ... the identification of plots where these seeds were planted in order to destroy the rapeseed in question, accompanied of course by compensation for the affected farmers,'' the Environment Ministry said in a statement.
Italian Fraud Probe
Italian Farm Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said he was ordering anti-fraud checks.
``I have asked the anti-fraud inspectorate to verify whether transgenic seeds have been sold to (Italian) farmers without their knowledge,'' Pecoraro Scanio told Reuters.
British officials, conscious of growing public opposition to GM foods, rushed to minimize the problem and offer health assurances.
``We believe there is no threat to the environment because the GM variety is sterile and it is difficult to see how it could cross-pollinate with other plants,'' Agriculture Minister Nick Browne told parliament.
In Stockholm, the Agriculture Department said 14 tons of seeds imported into Sweden in 1999 from Canada contained 0.4 percent of genetically modified rapeseed.
Germany said it would not destroy up to 740 acres of rapeseed being grown from seeds contaminated by GM material.
``Our experts say there are no rules that would compel us by law to destroy it,'' an Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.
Advanta spokesman David Buckeridge said the areas sown with GM-contaminated seed were small and that there was no risk to health. He also said that no laws had been broken.
Environmentalists were not convinced.
``These trials have now gone beyond farce,'' said Peter Riley, of Friends of the Earth, a leading environmental group.
``The only sensible course of action must be for the government to order the abandonment of these trials before any more GM pollution is released into the environment.''
A clutch of farm-scale government-backed trials of GM crops are currently operating across Britain. Green activists have been arrested after trashing the crops in well-publicized demonstrations.
Organic farmers fear their crops will be tainted by GM material even it is grown some distance from their own farms.
Used in foods ranging from chocolate to ice cream, the rape could be sold to consumers as a GM-free product, despite strict rules on food labeling and uncertainty about possible hazards associated with the technology.
The Soil Association, the organic farmers' mouthpiece, demanded action by the British government.
``We believe it's the government's responsibility to track down the 600 farms involved and destroy the crop,'' the group's director Patrick Holden told Reuters.
Environmental group Greenpeace called on the British government to recall and destroy GM oilseed rape mistakenly planted in Britain and said Advanta should compensate farmers.
``This fiasco will affect farmers, animal feed mills and honey producers who are faced with a contaminated product that is both illegal and potentially unsafe,'' the group said.
Advanta Seeds UK, part of a 50-50 venture between Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca Plc and the Dutch cooperative Cosun that imported the seeds to Europe, said it told the British government about them last month.
British farmers sowed about 22,240 acres with the affected stocks last year, and about 11,610 acres in spring 2000.