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Farmers Accidentally Plant 30,000 Acres Of GM Crops

Source: By David Brown - Agriculture Editor, Daily Telegraph

18th May 2000

Presence of genetically modified crop in UK presents no human health risk says chairman [17 May '00] - Food Standards Agency.

THE Government was at the centre of a political storm over genetically modified crops last night after the Ministry of Agriculture admitted that large quantities of GM oilseed rape have been sown by accident on up to 600 farms. More than 22,000 acres of the contaminated seed were planted and harvested in Britain last year. A further 11,750 acres were planted this spring before the "mistake" was discovered. The Government's policy is not to allow GM crops to be grown commercially at least until 2003, when current farm-scale trials and other studies will be complete. The farmers involved had thought that they were planting conventional seed. Oil crushed from the seeds has already entered the food chain. It is used for cooking and in a range of foods including margarine, ice-cream and chocolate. Some material may have gone into cattle food. Pollen from these crops will have spread throughout the countryside with unknown results. Farmers in France, Germany, Sweden and other European countries have also planted large amounts of the seed, imported from Canada by the Dutch-owned Advanta company. About one per cent of it was GM material. The blunder was uncovered only a day after the Prince of Wales issued a strong warning about GM crops, and disclosures that traces from GM pollen had been found in British honey. MPs were furious that it took Maff so long to go public. The contaminated seed was discovered in spot checks by state officials in Baden-Wrttemberg, Germany, on April 3. Advanta stopped sales to British farmers a week later after its own tests seemed to verify the German findings. After further tests confirmed the findings, the company informed the Department of the Environment and Maff on April 17 - two weeks after the discovery in Germany. Maff waited until yesterday - one month after being approached by Advanta - to make a public statement in the form of written answer from Baroness Hayman, the agriculture minister, in the Lords. Officials said the delay was due to consultations with other Government departments and the Food Standards Agency. Lady Hayman said: "This is not a safety issue. There is no risk to public health or the environment." No Government action is to be taken against Advanta, which imported the seed unwittingly. Friends of the Earth accused Maff of a cover-up and claimed that if it had acted sooner many farmers would have been prevented from planting the contaminated crops. Mike Ruthven, general manager of Advanta Seeds UK, said: "This could not have happened at a worse time but we have acted responsibly. As soon as we knew there was a problem we sought guidance from the Government." The company, which said it could not identify individual customers because its seed was sold through merchants, is setting up an information desk for farmers.

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