Document Directory

25 May 00 - GMO - Europeans Angered by Use of Genetically Modified Foods
25 May 00 - GMO - Seeds supplied by France and US may be tainted
25 May 00 - GMO - Riots threaten pro-GM conference
25 May 00 - GMO - GM crops 'planted for years by mistake'
25 May 00 - GMO - British plant breeders to allow GM contamination of seeds
25 May 00 - GMO - GM-risk maize planted in Britain
24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer destroys crop of GM-contaminated rape
24 May 00 - GMO - Prince urged to reconsider GM
24 May 00 - GMO - Anti-GM battle hots up as farmer destroys crop
24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer will plough up GM crops
24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer destroys his GM crops
23 May 00 - GMO - Black month for Brown over GM farce
22 May 00 - GMO - GM secrecy 'made seed error worse'
21 May 00 - GMO - Not an accident .....
21 May 00 - GMO - Commons misled over GM bungle
21 May 00 - GMO - All you need to know about GM food
21 May 00 - GMO - Don't turn your back on science
20 May 00 - GMO - Officials fail to check source of GM pollution
20 May 00 - GMO - Genetically modified crops
20 May 00 - GMO - Brown 'could have stopped' GM planting
20 May 00 - GMO - GM error farmer wants damages
20 May 00 - GMO - Victim of oilseed rape blunder fears for his farm
20 May 00 - GMO - MPs invite Prince to explain his views
20 May 00 - GMO - Prince called to Commons GM inquiry



25 May 00 - GMO - Europeans Angered by Use of Genetically Modified Foods

By Richard Gizbert

ABC Evening News ... Thursday 25 May 2000


The food fight continues in Europe. All over the continent, people are having serious doubts about the safety and ethics of genetically modified (GM) food. And they're not being quiet about it.

A growing number of people are staging protests against this altered food. Today in Genoa, Italy, four thousand people marched on the site of a biotechnology conference. The march - attended by farmers, environmentalists, wildlife conservationists and students - originated at a McDonald's, which had to be closed for the day as a result. It was the largest protest of GM foods the country has seen thus far.

And this week in Britain, Sweden and France, farmers destroyed their crops when they learned the seeds they planted were genetically modified.

More and more people won't eat the stuff , and some are going to great lengths to isolate products made with GM foods. Some British restaurants, for example, are making a point to declare their recipes GM-free .

"A group of chefs, especially in London, are very much sticking together and banning anything to do with genetically modified food ," says chef Gordon Ramsey.

Also, some British stores are going so far as to clearly mark which foods are genetically modified - and which aren't.

"I try my best to steer clear of them at the moment, until they know exactly what they are dealing with - and I don't think they do ," says one European woman.

Skepticism About Safety

To put it simply, Europe is suspicious and it has been for a while. Farming tends to be done on a smaller scale, and many Europeans distrust the big multinational food corporations that say genetically modified food is the way of the future.

They also distrust the scientists who insist genetically modified food is safe. They remember - especially in Britain - scientists telling them that mad cow disease posed no threat to humans, only to be proven tragically wrong.

"I think what it will lead to is a broader debate about what kind of food do we want and what kind of agriculture do we want," says Benedict Haerlin, co-coordinator of the Greenpeace GM Food Campaign. "And this debate will stay with us for a very long time."

This is also a debate Europe can afford to have . With enough food to go around, Europeans are saying: why fool with Mother Nature? Even if the risk is slight, why take it?

Why Take the Risk?

While Europe is shunning genetically altered food, many people around the world believe it is a potential panacea, or a universal solution to the food shortages threatened by drought, famine and overpopulation.

In China, as in most of the world's developing countries, there is no emotional debate nor real controversy. Genetically modified crops are not only accepted, they are enthusiastically embraced. Over the next few years, the world's most populous nation expects to see genetically modified rice, corn and wheat throughout their country.

In Asia, Africa and Latin America, drought, famine and overpopulation regularly threaten existing food supplies.

These are countries that not only need more food, but food that is easier and cheaper to grow - and more nutritional.

Genetically modified crops already offer promise in many areas:

In India, they are now struggling with a major drought, so they plant chickpea seeds that need less water to grow.

In Africa, they grow cassava root that is resistant to disease, providing food to 500 million Africans.

In the Philippines, they are fighting the devastating statistic that over 2 million children die each year from vitamin A deficiency by growing a new, so-called "golden rice" that is enriched with the vitamin.

"Rice is an important staple crop for perhaps 50 percent of the world's population," says Charles Riemenschneider of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "To the extent that we can improve the nutritional quality of that, we can make great gains in the food security of the world."

In most developing countries, there is also a heavy exodus of people from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. This leaves fewer people in the countryside to provide more food - and the variety of food - that cities want.

In China today, the demand for soy beans is so great that the country now imports more than it grows. And roughly half of those beans are genetically modified.

" Eight-hundred million people in the world are chronically malnourished today and we're gonna have another 1.5 billion people in the world to feed by the year 2020," says Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation. "That's over 2 billion extra mouths to be fed that aren't fed now."

If there is any doubt how far some countries will go to meet that need, Chinese scientists are now even launching seeds into space to see if they can be genetically modified by using weightlessness and cosmic radiation.

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25 May 00 - GMO - Thousands march in anti-GM food protest in Genoa

Mark Litke

Reuters ... Thursday 25 May 2000


Genoa, Italy, May 25 (Reuters) - Italy saw its biggest protest yet against genetically modified foods as thousands marched to the site of a biotechnology conference in the northern city of Genoa on Thursday.

Marchers, estimated by police at around 4,000, included supporters of environmentalist pressure groups and political parties, farmers, leftists and representatives of local councils that have banned GM foods.

``The message of this march to life sciences companies that develop GM technology is: Don't patent life ,'' Fiorello Cortiana, a member of the Greens and vice-president of the Senate's agricultural committee, told Reuters. ``We should be properly informed about GM technology so that we can make our own choices about what we eat.''

Police armed with truncheons and carbines escorted the march. At least 40 officers ringed a restaurant of U.S. company McDonalds Corp., located on the square where the march began in central Genoa.

A sales assistant said the restaurant had closed because of the protest. McDonalds, which has been the target of anti-GM protests in Europe in the past, has halted purchases of GM foodstuffs .

Environmentalists have raised concerns over possible health and environmental risks from GM foods, but life science groups say GM crops can raise yields, potentially reducing world hunger, and increase resistance to disease.


25 May 00 - GMO - Seeds supplied by France and US may be tainted

John Vidal and James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 25 May 2000


International seed suppliers and scientists last night admitted that contamination of crops by genetic modification was probably widespread , threatening to further undermine the government's claim that it is in control of the spread of the new technology.

French suppliers of seed for Britain's maize crop have said they cannot guarantee it is free of GM material, while US testers warned that much of the American conventional seed supply may have been contamination by GM pollen.

Greenpeace, the environmental campaigners, raised the stakes further by claiming that 5% to 15% of the European maize crop might be contaminated - an allegation denied by seed companies.

An article in today's New Scientist reports that low level contamination of seeds sold to Europe appears widespread . Pioneer Hi-Bred, the world's largest supplier of GM and conventional seeds, acknowledged that a low level of mingling between the types was "inevitable".

"In 1998 the UK imported 491,000 tonnes of soya beans from North America. If 1% was GM, roughly 5,000 tonnes of GM soya beans were imported", says New Scientist.

A spokesman for the Brussels-based European Seed Association said yesterday that there had been one or two incidents last year when conventional maize had been found to be contaminated with GM.

"Everyone knew about it", said a spokesman, Garlich von Essen."There was no legal provision for this so French growers guaranteed there was not more than 1% . The guarantee does not mean there is GM, but it guarantees there is not more than 1%." France supplies most of the UK's maize seeds, said Mr Essen. He denied Greenpeace's claim of up to 15% contamination .

US scientists added to the furore by saying there was "widespread" GM contamination of all conventional seeds . "It's across the board", said Cheryl Ryan of Genetic-ID, a private firm which screens agricultural produce for GM contamination.

"Some US companies have taken great strides to eliminate contamination. But up to 50% of the seeds we test can be contaminated" , she said.

"The level of contamination can be up to 2% . "We've seen this level but we cannot say if they are samples from small seed producers or large."

Charlie Kronick, of Greenpeace, said: "The government should stop plotting with industry about how to allow contamination and instead act to eliminate the pollution."

The deputy prime minister John Prescott told the Commons there was no evidence that Britain had suffered from any imports of contaminated seed after last week's revelation that thousands of acres of oilseed rape containing GM material had been unwittingly planted by UK farmers.

But last night the Ministry of Agriculture could not say how much seed Britain imported to grow its 11.6m acres of crops, or name the major sources of supply, except for maize grown on about 110,000 acres for animal feed or sweetcorn. This came mainly from France, the US and Spain.

Since there is as yet no testing in Britain , no one knows the extent of the problem. The ministry's central science laboratory in York will start random sampling on June 1.

Mr Prescott said yesterday the government had responded as quickly as possible to the oilseed rape "mix-up". He told Tory backbencher Robert Syms, he had "no evidence and no information" about other crops "and you can be assured that if we do have some information, we shall certainly be telling the house about it".

The Tory agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said he was "deeply concerned" by the revelations and demanded quick answers from the agriculture minister Nick Brown.

"A delay of the sort which followed the German warning about oilseed rape communicated to the British government on April 17 will mean confidence in Labour's handling of GM issues is destroyed ."

The Ministry of Agriculture insisted the measures the government was taking , including trials of "real" GM crops before they can be sold , were strong compared to other countries but admitted "from time to time GM seed might be found in conventional seed" .

"We are seeking concerted international action to have new standards for seed purity."

The latest problems for the government follow disclosures that the European Seed Association had this week faxed letters to EU governments stepping up the pressure for international rules that would allow for the accidental cross-contamination of seeds by up to 1%, the same percentage of GM material that is allowed in foods before they have to be declared as containing GM ingredients. At present, there are no regulations.


25 May 00 - GMO - Riots threaten pro-GM conference

Rory Carroll in Genoa

Guardian ... Thursday 25 May 2000


Ringed by Italian riot police, disowned by city authorities, dumped by the government and besieged by protesters, the biotechnology industry's campaign for European hearts and minds crashed before it began yeste'

Hundreds of companies and institutions gathered in Genoa to organise a counter-attack against environmental critics, but were left stranded after the Italian authorities sided with thousands of protesters. The minister of agriculture, Alfonso Scanio, withdrew sponsorship of the three-day conference and sent a symbolic £30 to the estimated 400 pressure groups mobilising last night.

Genoa's council voted to join a group of municipalities which have banned genetically modified food, and will send its mayors to today's demonstrations. About 5,000 armed riot police, backed by helicopters, patrolled the seafront congress and exhibition centre as delegates arrived for the Tebio conference.

Biotechnology representatives from 21 countries had hoped to use Genoa as a showcase to reclaim the propaganda initiative, but the event appeared to have backfired amid claims that the programme had been rigged.

The police are afraid that the scuffles and vandalism outside the centre will grow into street battles today when mainstream environmentalists are joined by anarchists and militants.

Claiming that the technology is dangerous and untested , the protesters have united under the slogan Rebellion is Natural. Britain's Reclaim the Streets group vowed to attend what some protesters billed a "mini-Seattle", threatening a sequel to the riots at the World Trade Organisation's summit last December. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have pulled out of the rallies for that reason.

The Italian prime minister, Giuliano Amato, sent a telegram of support to the conference, but several cabinet ministers backed the decision of Mr Scanio, a Green, to withdraw sponsorship.

Many newspapers and the nobel laureate Dario Fo also backed the protests.

The atmosphere of hostility was fed by a consumer watchdog's discovery of food products not carrying GM warning labels .

"The industry was trying to send a signal that genetically modified food was part of the wider biotechnology research into medicine and other good things but it failed," said Fabrizio Fabbri of Greenpeace

The conference organisers accused the protesters of hijacking a genuine attempt to engage in dialogue. Renalto Dulbecco, a Nobel-winning scientist and president of Tebio, admitted that controls were needed for potentially dangerous technologies, but pleaded for the benefits to be recognised.

Plants resistant to dehydration and rice with added vitamin A were just two of many breakthroughs that could be of huge benefit to developing countries, he said.

Speakers assured the audience that the future of GM technology was bright. Japan and the US were forging ahead in research, and laggards like Portugal, Spain and Italy were catching up, they said.

Doug Yarrow, of the British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council praised the Government for spending an extra £1bn on the industry over three years. The UK was benefiting from improved "knowledge transference" between universities and firms, he said. Repeating a conference mantra about the need for public relations, he urged scientists to spend at least 2% of their time explaining their work to the public.

Academics and executives clustered around a stand offering tips on handling the media. The advice included: "Be as open as possible and never lie", "Show concern if there is a genuine problem", "Be as positive as possible without sounding callous and uncaring", and "Beware of admitting liability".

Secondary-school children were agog as John Schollar, of the national centre for bioethic education at the University of Reading, demonstrated how to create electricity from yeast. He said: "Children come with fresh minds, they are more open.

"If you can engage them in the science then they are in a better position to make ethical and moral choices about the science. Unlike some people outside."


25 May 00 - GMO - GM crops 'planted for years by mistake'

By Nick Nuttall, Environment Correspondent

Times ... Thursday 25 May 2000


Farmers in Britain may have been unwittingly planting a range of genetically modified crops for several years , according to a seed-testing laboratory in the United States.

Genetics ID, based in Fairfield, Iowa, screens agricultural produce for genetic modifications, including seeds exported to Europe. Its latest tests show that more than half of 20 random samples of what are supposed to be conventional seeds contain some level of GM produce .

Referring to the disclosures last week that around 600 farms in Britain have been planting oilseed rape contaminated with GM seeds for two years, Jeffrey Smith, vice president of the company, told New Scientist magazine: "My guess is that it happens all the time". Mr Smith said that 12 out of 20 samples of maize, which in North America has been modified to be herbicide or pest-resistant, contained up to 1 per cent of GM produce.Small amounts of maize is grown in Britain as sweetcorn with more grown for livestock.

Greenpeace said yesterday that it had evidence that between 5 and 15 per cent of the European maize crop may be contaminated with GM . The group refused to release its evidence, claiming it would compromise its source.

Another imported crop which may be affected is soya beans. Of 491,000 tonnes of soya imported into Britain, 5,000 might have been genetically modified . The exact number that may have been sown is unknown because the Ministry of Agriculture does not keep records of how much is turned into food and how much goes to farms. A spokeswoman for the ministry said that it would not dispute Genetic ID's claims: "We cannot be sure that imported seed is not contaminated," she said.

The Government, in the wake of last week's news that 600 farms may have planted GM oilseed rape, has called for tighter international regulations and will start carrying out spot checks on imported seed early next month.

The Marquess of Lansdowne, who has a 540 acre arable farm near Dunkeld, Perthshire, yesterday revealed that he had destroyed some 250 acres of GM-contaminated oilseed rape . In a letter to The Times he said that the cost of weedkiller, labour and replanting the land would cost him at least £5,000 and demanded that the Government pays compensation. He said that the Ministry of Agriculture could have informed farmers on or around the April 17, which was two weeks before he sowed his crop.

Sweden and France also obtained the contaminated oilseed rape from Canada. In Sweden yesterday, the agricultural board said that all GM oilseed rape would be destroyed by July 7 unless farmers obtained a special permit. By allowing some to keep it, the board was "respecting the views" of genetic experts. The French Government will decide this week whether to order the destruction of 600 hectares of GM oilseed rape.

The British Government has lost another farmer from its GM trials after objections from local residents. John Moore abandoned plans to grow GM oilseed rape in Warwickshire.


25 May 00 - GMO - British plant breeders to allow GM contamination of seeds

By Michael McCarthy and Charles Arthur

Independent ... Thursday 25 May 2000


Britain's plant breeders and seed merchants are prepared to allow contamination of some crop seeds by up to 1 per cent of genetically modified material, it emerged yesterday.

They are backing a French initiative to allow maize to be sold as non-GM if it has up to 1 per cent of GM seed , but green groups said it was an "outrageous loophole".

The presence of less than 1 per cent of GM material in imported oilseed rape seed sold to British farmers caused a furore when disclosed last week.

French companies put forward the 1 per cent figure, the same as that allowed by EU law for GM material in food sold as non-GM. There are no EU or governmental rules about GM levels in seeds. In a letter to EU member-states the European Seed Associations (ESA) is saying the French figure had been "endorsed by all seed associations of the European Union."

A spokeswoman for the UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association said: "We see no reason to disagree...although we would like an agreement between governments." Roger Turner, chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders, said: "If ESA have said 1 per cent is a sensible and acceptable level for maize, I would see similar thresholds being applied for other seeds in the UK."

Dr Turner, who also heads the body promoting GM crops in Britain, countered that environmentalists "have to get into the real world". He said: "You can't have a completely one hundred per cent pure anything, whether it is drinking water, pharmaceuticals or seeds. We need to have a sensible threshold that the industry can work to, to provide high-quality certified seeds."

But Jim Thomas, Greenpeace food campaigner, said: "The limit should be zero. One per cent is a huge figure when it's living pollution, something that can replicate... It should be dealt with like an outbreak of a virus. One per cent is an outrageous loophole."

The Ministry of Agriculture is not endorsing the 1 per cent figure, although it accepts that a GM contamination threshold for seeds has to be agreed.

Jeffrey Smith, of Genetic ID, a US company that tests for GM in conventional crops, told New Scientist magazine that zero per cent contamination was probably not possible.


25 May 00 - GMO - GM-risk maize planted in Britain

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 25 May 2000


The row over genetically modified crops intensified yesterday with claims that up to 41,000 acres of maize contaminated by GM material have been planted in Britain for this year's harvest.

Last week the Government announced that contaminated oilseed rape was sown by accident on up to 600 British farms and many more throughout Europe. Greenpeace claimed to have documentary evidence that up to 15 per cent of this year's European maize crop - roughly 2.4 million acres - have been sown with contaminated seed .

In a separate disclosure, the European Seed Association said that, in the absence of EU regulations, international maize breeders have followed the French, who allow one per cent of GM material in conventional seed supplies . Most of Britain's maize seed - both for crops of sweetcorn and maize for animal fodder - is imported from France.

In a letter sent to the Ministry of Agriculture on Monday, the ESA called for a single, European standard for crop seed with an allowance for a small amount of contamination with GM material. The letter gave no details of the scale of maize plantings containing GM material but Greenpeace said it had seen a document from "reputable sources" showing that "between five and 15 per cent of the European crop is contaminated with GMOs ".

This amounted to more than 2.4 million acres . A lesser area was also planted last year and these crops have already passed into the food chain, it said. Officially no GM crops can be grown commercially in Britain until 2003 when current farm-scale trials and other research projects are completed. But it is known that up to 22,000 acres of Canadian-bred oilseed rape contaminated with GM material were planted by accident in Britain last year and that the oil produced from it has been used in a variety of foods. This spring a further 11,750 acres were planted

Charlie Kronick, Greenpeace anti-GM campaigner, said: "This is a monumental breach of public trust ." He called on the Government to destroy all contaminated seeds and crops as a matter of urgency. Sweden has already ordered its farmers to dig up contaminated oilseed rape.

The Ministry of Agriculture said last night: "We have no indication that any conventional maize seed imported into the UK does contain modified varieties." John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, indicated in the Commons that the Government had no knowledge of any other accidental planting. But Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, began contacting his EU counterparts to set up a special meeting in Portugal this weekend to draw up a statutory common purity standard for crop seeds in Europe.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, said: "These are very worrying developments . The Government must resist pressure to agree to a threshold even as low as one per cent. It is argued that this will be all right because the EU has a threshold of up to one per cent GM in novel foods but it is not all right . In no way does this simple calculation take account of the effect these contaminated seeds could have on the environment ."

The National Farmers' Union said last night that the amount of maize grown in Britain - about 275,000 acres - was relatively small compared with the 3.4 million acres of barley and 5 million acres of wheat. But it added: "Farmers need guidance urgently on the issue of seed purity. We intend to make sure that all farmers will be properly compensated for any losses incurred through unknowingly growing crops containing GM material ."

Twelve acres of genetically modified seed was planted mistakenly on Orkney as part of a scheme to boost numbers of farmland birds, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said. It is ploughing the crop back in and intends to seek compensation.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the top five supermarkets and other major food outlets, is expected to announce today that its members will refuse to buy any oil produced from crops of the contaminated rape in Britain. This followed a similar announcement last week from some individual supermarkets.

In a separate development, New Scientist magazine reports today that, in tests, more than half of samples of conventional maize seed in America were found to contain GM material . Jeffrey Smith, vice-president of the Genetic ID testing company in Fairfield, Iowa, says in an article that the contamination problem is "commonplace" and adds: "My guess is that it happens all the time."


24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer destroys crop of GM-contaminated rape

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 24 May 2000


One of the 600 British farmers who have accidentally sown genetically modified oilseed rape became the first to destroy his crop yesterday.

John Sanderson, of South Elham Hall Farm, St Cross, near Harleston, Norfolk, said consumers had shown they did not want GM food . Also the first of the 600 to identify himself, he took cameramen to a 22.5 acre field to watch the contaminated oilseed rape being mown and then ploughed into the ground a few days before it was due to flower .

Winter-sown oilseed rape was still in flower in adjoining fields. Destroying the crop from the GM contaminated seed would prevent any chance of cross-pollination , he said. Mr Sanderson said destroying the crop would cost about £5,000 in lost revenue and he was taking legal advice about compensation .

The seed was among consignments sold by the Dutch-owned company Advanta Seeds UK. The firm has admitted that about 11,750 acres of the seed were planted this year. A further 22,000 acres were planted and harvested last year.

Mr Sanderson said he did not find out until last Friday that he was one of the farmers who planted the GM seed - two days after the Government made the mistake public and a month after the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment was notified by the company about the error.

He said: "Maintaining a GM-free status is important to me so I feel I have no choice but to ensure this crop is destroyed. It is for each farmer affected by this to decide on what action to take. However, I deplore the fact that this GM-contaminated crop has been foisted on us."


24 May 00 - GMO - Prince urged to reconsider GM

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 24 May 2000


The Prince of Wales should not ignore the potential benefits of the gene revolution, Sir Simon Hornby said in his speech as president of the RHS.

Chelsea Flower Show - "the greatest in the world" - celebrated triumphs of genetic modification, said Sir Simon, a former chairman of W H Smith. The positive side of biotechnology should not be ignored.

(UK Correspondents note: possibly selective breeding is not quite the same as cutting fish genes into tomatoes .......)

Responding to last week's Reith Lecture, in which the Prince spoke of the perils of working "against the grain of nature", Sir Simon said: "As I went into the marquee I realised that over 90 per cent of the plant material was the result of genetic modification over hundreds of years.

"I'm speaking as a layman, but this whole show is about hybrids and cultivars which are made as a result of our interference, which is a form of genetic manipulation."


24 May 00 - GMO - Anti-GM battle hots up as farmer destroys crop

Paul Brown, John Vidal and Geoffrey Gibbs

Guardian ... Wednesday 24 May 2000


An angry Suffolk farmer yesterday dug up 27 acres of GM contaminated oilseed rape , which he - like more than 500 other farmers - planted after it was imported accidentally because there were no government checks .

John Sanderson, who owns a 450 acre mixed arable farm near Harleston, said he was flabbergasted when he learned last week that the seed he had bought contained genetically modified contamination .

He is to re-sow his fields with uncontaminated seeds which he knows he can sell - and take legal advice about gaining compensation for his losses and extra work.

In a separate incident yesterday, 20 anti-GM activists occupied the Ministry of Agriculture's headquarters in central London for several hours, accusing the government of contamination of the countryside.

The contamination, which has resulted in over 30,000 acres being planted with GM seed, centres on supplies produced by Advanta and imported from Canada.

The government was first told on April 17 about the mistake, but did not make it public until a month later . No decision has been made on compensation.

Supermarket chains who use the oil in foods like margarine and biscuits specify their products contain no GM ingredients and will refuse to buy the contaminated crops . The husks go for animal feed which some chains also now want to be GM-free .

Mr Sanderson, 44, said he had been contacted by a seed merchant last week and told that he had been mistakenly sold GM spring seed .

He said that he would be taking legal advice in an attempt to gain compensation for loss of the crop, which he said was worth £5,000.

He said: "It may be that in the future I will decide to grow GM crops. But that has got to be my decision and I will take it if I feel the public is ready for it."

Advanta is understood to have advised UK farmers not to destroy their crops. The agriculture minister, Nick Brown, told MPs there were "no health or environmental risks" following the accidental planting.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Pete Riley said: "This is a brave action by an individual farmer facing company pressure and government indifference. But it is a disgrace that farmers have been put in this position."

Tension between the Welsh assembly and the Department of the Environment in London will come to the boil today when assembly members vote to oppose planting of GM crops in Wales .

The issue is seen by some opposition members as a key test of the assembly's devolved powers and follows uproar over farm trials of GM forage maize in north east Wales .

The GM crop was planted at Sealand , Flintshire, earlier this month in the face of opposition in Cardiff and pleas by the Welsh agriculture secretary, Christine Gwyther, for the trial to be switched to a site in England.


24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer will plough up GM crops

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Wednesday 24 May 2000


The first farmer in the GM oilseed rape contamination controversy to plough up his affected crop said yesterday he would seek compensation .

John Sanderson, from Norfolk, was the first to take drastic action out of the nearly 600 farmers who have this year inadvertently planted oilseed rape contaminated with GM seed from the Canadian prairies.

Mr Sanderson's 27-acre crop was worth £5,000. No compensation package has been offered to the farmers affected.

The scandal has driven a hole through the Government's policy of postponing all commercial growing of GM crops until environmental trials are completed in 2002.

Mr Sanderson, who owns a 450-acre mixed arable farm near Harleston, said he was flabbergasted when he learnt last week the seed he had bought was genetically modified . "After careful thought I have taken the decision to destroy the crop before it has a chance to flower and contaminate anything else ," he said. "I have taken this decision on a purely commercial basis and I will be taking legal advice."

The seed wholesaler which imported the crops, Advanta UK, and the Ministry of Agriculture have both advised the affected farmers not to destroy their crops but to harvest them in the normal way.

"We have made it clear that no action to destroy crops is required, after having taken advice from our expert committees, who have said there is no risk to public health or the environment," said a Ministry of Agriculture spokesman.

But green groups which are campaigning against GM plantings want them destroyed and compensation paid .


24 May 00 - GMO - Farmer destroys his GM crops

By Steve Bird

Times ... Wednesday 24 May 2000


A Farmer who unwittingly planted genetically modified seeds yesterday started to destroy the huge crop in an attempt to preserve his farm's status as GM-free .

John Sanderson is believed to be the first farmer in Britain to lay waste to 27 acres of oilseed rape which has been contaminated with GM seeds .

Mr Sanderson, 44, may sue Advanta Seeds, which imported the seeds, to recoup his losses, expected to run into thousands of pounds. "Consumers have shown they do not want GM food," he said. "Maintaining a GM-free status is important to me, so I feel I have no choice but to ensure this crop is destroyed ."

Mr Sanderson promotes his 455-acre farm, near Norwich, as environmentally friendly. But he fears that plans to gain organic status for his beef production may have been jeopardised by the seed blunder. He found that he was one of 600 British farmers to have been sold the contaminated crop last Thursday.


23 May 00 - GMO - Black month for Brown over GM farce

James Meikle

Guardian ... Tuesday 23 May 2000


Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, is under siege again. He is carrying the can for the failure of the government's supposedly robust systems for monitoring the testing of genetically modified food and crops, the month-long delay in admitting the mistake of allowing contaminated seed to be planted, the alleged cover-up associated with it and the muted official announcement through a written Parliamentary answer last Wednesday.

Everyone loves to hate a scapegoat, particularly if it is the Ministry of Agriculture. It is easy to put the boot in too. After all, its complacency helped take the BSE crisis into the most expensive peacetime disaster in generations, its officials are routinely ridiculed in Whitehall for apparent slavish loyalty to intensive farming methods, and Mr Brown himself had a bad beef war politically and presentationally in the row with France over the resumption of British exports last year.

But the latest GM failure was a collective failure. After all, this is a government which prides itself on its joined-upness. Until a couple of weeks ago, the presentation of GM issues was a matter for a special unit within the Cabinet Office . All media inquiries were expected to go through it, including about the siting of trial sites for GM crops, even though Michael Meacher, the environment minister, was the man who announced the first batch of them back in March.

But then the going started getting tough. First, the number of trial sites was quite plainly going to be nowhere near the 80 first promised this year. Then a trial crop site was announced for Wales, when officials had earlier said the country would effectively be GM-free for three years of trials because it did not traditionally grow the crops which would have a GM alternative. This was plainly wrong, since Aventis, one of the companies involved in the trials, thought the borderlands of England and Wales ideal for such tests.

And then came the ultimate embarrassment . Farmers had planted two sowings of oil seed rape from seeds grown on the Canadian prairies and contaminated with GM material . Suddenly calls to the Cabinet Office were referred to the agriculture ministry, the Department for the Environment and the Food Standards Agency, although presumably the blessed Mo Mowlam's officials agreed the way the matter was finally made (sort of) public.

The Cabinet Office has the bare-faced cheek to say it was most appropriate for Nick Brown's team to handle the fall-out from this fiasco since "it is a story about seed purity". This, of course, is rubbish. The incident has undermined the government's whole GM policy , for which Ms Mowlam will still bear the overall strategic responsibility .

Her officials rather weakly point out that she did speak on the issue on the BBC's Today programme on Monday but the main reason for her appearance was to announce that the government was considering sweeping new powers to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of drug barons and other criminals, a recycled version of proposals a Home Office group came up with 18 months ago. It was however a time for a politically uplifting message to counter the Conservatives' apparent finger on the public pulse over crime.

No wonder voters are growing deeply cynical about politics. Mo is popular so she can obviously be in the driving seat - and it makes up for Mr Blair ignoring her recently. Mr Brown is not obviously popular. So when the wheels come off the wagon over GM issues, he, followed soon no doubt by Mr Meacher, an old lefty, will be the first to find the safety belts don't work.


22 May 00 - GMO - GM secrecy 'made seed error worse'

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Monday 22 May 2000


An Effective early warning system must be put in place to avoid a repeat of the rogue genetically modified seed fiasco , the chairman of English Nature said yesterday.

Baroness Young of Old Scone was among leading environmental advisers to the Government who were not informed that 22,000 acres last year and 10,000 this year had been planted with GM-contaminated spring oilseed rape imported from Canada.

She said that if the rogue seed error had been made public on April 17, when the Government first knew, it might have halted the planting of some spring crops. Many farmers had delayed their spring planting because of wet weather.

She said that she was "very surprised" that English Nature had not been consulted on such an important issue when this was precisely its role. She is to raise the matter today with the Department of the Environment. English Nature is anxious to identify the farms involved to ensure that any aftermath from the crop can be destroyed . After a harvest of spring oilseed rape, up to 10,000 seeds per square metre are left in the field.

Lady Young's comments will add to the pressure on Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, who told MPs last week that the relevant advisory body had examined the issue and concluded that it posed no risk.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, claimed yesterday that Mr Brown had misled the Commons and called for his resignation . He is to demand an emergency statement today.

One of Mr Brown's aides said: "I can tell you that Nick told the House exactly what he was advised by officials. He will certainly want to get to the bottom of this himself."

There is also concern that it took the Government three weeks to contact its advisers - they were informed on May 10 - a week before the Commons written answer disclosing the error. A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman denied that there had been inconsistencies. "We have already stressed we wanted to check the full facts before making the news public."

In an interview with The Times, Lady Young expressed dismay that English Nature had been excluded from discussions about the crop. She said: "If the Government wants committees like Acre (the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) there for emergency decisions, they must set up a system for the group to meet - or to virtually meet via a website - to discuss the issue. These are not matters for an e-mail and should be decided in discussion with a group of people."

English Nature does not have a representative on Acre, but Bryan Johnson, the body's leading GM expert, is an adviser. He was also not informed and knew nothing until the Commons written answer last Wednesday. Lady Young said: "They really have been pretty unsatisfactory over this."

Whitehall sources confirmed yesterday that spot checks on seed imports and stock would be carried out from June 1 by a new team at the Central Science Laboratory, part of the Ministry of Agriculture (UK Correspondents note: Q:why not the Food Safety organisation? A: because then MAFF couldn't delay any future positive results)

A ministry spokesman also said that ministers would look carefully at any advice from English Nature about destruction of volunteer new crops . But the Government would not offer any compensation package to farmers. "Farmers must seek their own legal advice and take the matter up with the company," the spokesman said.


21 May 00 - GMO - Not an accident .....

UK Correspondent

Frankenstein Foods ... Sunday 21 May 2000


The main barrier to using GM modified seed is the unknown impact of genetic material released by such crops. Releasing this material is a one way trip, there is no going back. Consequently, once GM modified material is released there no reason not to use the GM modified seeds more widely.

Now that Advanta's GM seeds have been successfully infiltrated into the UK environment for two years it has effectively opened up the UK for the use of its GM modifed seed. In other words Advanta has gained a commercial edge over its competitors. It is therefore possible that the inclusion of GM seeds in UK sold seed for the last two years was far from accidental .

The above theory is supported by the fact that MAFF (who would like to bypass tests and start using GM products immediately) deliberately with-held information about the GM contaminated seed for a month in order to allow the seed already planted to flower and spread pollen. As anyone who has driven through the countryside lately knows, the flowering period has been for the last two weeks - it could have been prevented .


21 May 00 - GMO - Commons misled over GM bungle

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 21 May 2000


Ministers kept the accidental planting of GM crops across Britain secret even from their own advisers, the Independent on Sunday has learnt. Some official bodies heard news of the sowing of contaminated oil seed rape at 600 British farms only when it was broadcast on the radio last week.

And contrary to assurances from agriculture minister Nick Brown that the main advisory body had examined the planting and decided it posed no risk, it has also emerged that the committee has not even met to discuss the issue.

These revelations place a serious question mark over the Government's justification for failing to disclose the blunder to the public for a month - that it needed the time to consult its official advisers. And last night Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture secretary, said that Mr Brown has seriously misled the House of Commons and called on him to resign.

The Government learnt on 17 April that the contaminated seed , imported from Canada by the Dutch-owned company Advanta, had been accidentally sown over more than 22,000 acres of Britain last year and over a further 11,750 acres this spring. Last year's crop will have entered the food chain in cooking oil, margarine, ice cream, chocolate and through being fed to farm animals.

Yet ministers suppressed the information for a month, making it public only by the low-key device of a written answer to a Parliamentary question last Wednesday, after the Swedish government had announced that the seed had been sown in its own country and in Britain.

Officials said that the delay had been caused by the need to establish the facts and to get expert advice on what to do. But the Independent on Sunday has established that the Government's key advisers were not told of the incident until at least three weeks after ministers knew of it, and just a week before it was made public.

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions reluctantly admitted that the new Food Standards Agency (which regulates food safety), the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (which advises on whether genes are likely to escape), the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (which advises on the safety of GM foods) and the Advisory Committee on Animal Feeds HAD NOT BEEN TOLD until 10 May . It says the delay had occurred because the Government had to take time "to get the facts together" before consulting its advisers.

And members of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment told the Independent on Sunday that it will not meet to discuss the consequences of the accident until later this week , although Mr Brown told the House of Commons on Thursday that it had "looked at this specific incident and concluded that there is no risk".

Instead members were contacted by email on 10 May and asked for their individual opinions, a process which environmentalists say could not provide as considered a view as a full expert discussion. Worse, the Government's statutory nature bodies - English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee - were not consulted at all .

Mr Bryan Johnson, English Nature's top GM expert, said: "None of the statutory consultation agencies knew anything about this until the story broke on Radio 4. We were not asked for our advice in advance of the decision being made and were not consulted at all, I am afraid. We are not very happy about it, as you can imagine."

Baroness Young, English Nature's chairman, said she was "surprised that we came into the loop so late ", and Malcolm Smith, the deputy head of the Countryside Committee for Wales, said: "We didn't know anything about it , though it would have been very helpful to know."

Yesterday Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture secretary, said: "This is absolutely outrageous . The House of Commons has been seriously misled . We were told in unequivocal terms that the advice the Government had received from all the proper authorities was completely reassuring. But these assurances are based on more flimsy foundations than Parliament was told. I think this is now a resigning matter."

Meanwhile, the Government yesterday said no compensation would be paid to farmers hit by GM contamination. Supermarkets including Tesco, Safeway and Asda are understood to be preparing a boycott of any contaminated crops.


21 May 00 - GMO - All you need to know about GM food

Robin McKie

Guardian ... Sunday 21 May 2000


Mankind has tinkered with plants for 10,000 years, creating hybrids and strains that now sustain nearly all our planet's six billion inhabitants. These crops are by-products of standard breeding techniques. What alarms green supporters and Prince Charles is the artificial nature of modern genetic technologies.

So what do these gene engineering methods involve?

Scientists take a gene for a particular attribute - such as resistance to a herbicide - and splice it into a crop. Farmers then use that herbicide to eradicate weeds in a field.

What is the supposed advantage of such a system?

Scientists and crop companies say farm ers should be able to cut their weedkiller and fuel bills. At present, plants have to be dusted with a range of different herbicides, each designed to get rid of one specific species of weed. By making their crops resistant to a powerful, all-purpose herbicide, weedkilling can be done in a single spray each season.

Why do environmentalists object?

They claim that gene crops will cause farmers to use more herbicides , damage the environment and create dangerous monopolies in which a handful of GM crop companies will control seed and herbicide sales throughout the world. The first point is vociferously rejected by scientists. Gene crops are designed to cut herbicide use, they say. Early studies back this claim.

But what about damage to the environment?

Scientists believe that reduced use of weedkillers should cause less poisoning of insects and wild animals. Some ecologists disagree. To discover the answer, GM crop trials have been set up round the country. In three or four years, these should provide answers - if the fields are not first dug up and destroyed by green activists.

What about the danger of herbicide resistance genes spreading to wild flowers and plants?

This danger is accepted by scientists. However, pollen from a gene crop can only be taken up by plants of a similar species. The GM rape plants - mistakenly planted in Britain - are unlikely to affect the environment because they have no natural close corollary in this country.

So why has the planting of GM crops provoked such fury in the West?

Most analysts believe genetically modified foods arrived at a time when green activists were spoiling for a fight over the increasing industrialisation of food production. GM crops provided a convenient battle ground. In addition, the public - which distrusted gene technologies but accepted their use in the making of medicines and treatment of genetic disorders - saw no advantage in agriculture, other than making farmers and plant companies richer.


21 May 00 - GMO - Don't turn your back on science

Richard Dawkins

Guardian ... Sunday 21 May 2000


Your Royal Highness,

Your Reith lecture saddened me. I have deep sympathy for your aims, and admiration for your sincerity. But your hostility to science will not serve those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: 'Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.'

Let's look at some of the alternative philosophies which you seem to prefer over scientific reason. First, intuition, the heart's wisdom 'rustling like a breeze through the leaves'. Unfortunately, it depends whose intuition you choose. Where aims (if not methods) are concerned, your own intuitions coincide with mine. I wholeheartedly share your aim of long-term stewardship of our planet, with its diverse and complex biosphere.

But what about the instinctive wisdom in Saddam Hussein's black heart? What price the Wagnerian wind that rustled Hitler's twisted leaves? The Yorkshire Ripper heard religious voices in his head urging him to kill. How do we decide which intuitive inner voices to heed?

This, it is important to say, is not a dilemma that science can solve. My own passionate concern for world stewardship is as emotional as yours. But where I allow feelings to influence my aims, when it comes to deciding the best method of achieving them I'd rather think than feel. And thinking, here, means scientific thinking. No more effective method exists. If it did, science would incorporate it.

Next, Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural ness of 'traditional' or 'organic' agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.

Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!

The large, anonymous crowds in which we now teem began with the agricultural revolution, and without agriculture we could survive in only a tiny fraction of our current numbers. Our high population is an agricultural (and technological and medical) artifact. It is far more unnatural than the population-limiting methods condemned as unnatural by the Pope. Like it or not, we are stuck with agriculture, and agriculture - all agriculture - is unnatural. We sold that pass 10,000 years ago.

Does that mean there's nothing to choose between different kinds of agriculture when it comes to sustainable planetary welfare? Certainly not. Some are much more damaging than others, but it's no use appealing to 'nature', or to 'instinct' in order to decide which ones. You have to study the evidence, soberly and reasonably - scientifically. Slashing and burning (incidentally, no agricultural system is closer to being 'traditional') destroys our ancient forests. Overgrazing (again, widely practised by 'traditional' cultures) causes soil erosion and turns fertile pasture into desert. Moving to our own modern tribe, monoculture, fed by powdered fertilisers and poisons, is bad for the future; indiscriminate use of antibiotics to promote livestock growth is worse.

Incidentally, one worrying aspect of the hysterical opposition to the possible risks from GM crops is that it diverts attention from definite dangers which are already well understood but largely ignored. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is something that a Darwinian might have foreseen from the day antibiotics were discovered. Unfortunately the warning voices have been rather quiet, and now they are drowned by the baying cacophony: 'GM GM GM GM GM GM!'

Moreover if, as I expect, the dire prophecies of GM doom fail to materialise, the feeling of let-down may spill over into complacency about real risks. Has it occurred to you that our present GM brouhaha may be a terrible case of crying wolf?

Even if agriculture could be natural, and even if we could develop some sort of instinctive rapport with the ways of nature, would nature be a good role model? Here, we must think carefully. There really is a sense in which ecosystems are balanced and harmonious, with some of their constituent species becoming mutually dependent. This is one reason the corporate thuggery that is destroying the rainforests is so criminal.

On the other hand, we must beware of a very common misunderstanding of Darwinism. Tennyson was writing before Darwin but he got it right. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. Much as we might like to believe otherwise, natural selection, working within each species, does not favour long-term stewardship. It favours short-term gain. Loggers, whalers, and other profiteers who squander the future for present greed, are only doing what all wild creatures have done for three billion years.

No wonder T.H. Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, founded his ethics on a repudiation of Darwinism. Not a repudiation of Darwinism as science, of course, for you cannot repudiate truth. But the very fact that Darwinism is true makes it even more important for us to fight against the naturally selfish and exploitative tendencies of nature. We can do it. Probably no other species of animal or plant can. We can do it because our brains (admittedly given to us by natural selection for reasons of short-term Darwinian gain) are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term consequences. Natural selection is like a robot that can only climb uphill, even if this leaves it stuck on top of a measly hillock. There is no mechanism for going downhill, for crossing the valley to the lower slopes of the high mountain on the other side. There is no natural foresight, no mechanism for warning that present selfish gains are leading to species extinction - and indeed, 99 per cent of all species that have ever lived are extinct.

The human brain, probably uniquely in the whole of evolutionary history, can see across the valley and can plot a course away from extinction and towards distant uplands. Long-term planning - and hence the very possibility of stewardship - is something utterly new on the planet, even alien. It exists only in human brains. The future is a new invention in evolution. It is precious. And fragile. We must use all our scientific artifice to protect it.

It may sound paradoxical, but if we want to sustain the planet into the future, the first thing we must do is stop taking advice from nature. Nature is a short-term Darwinian profiteer. Darwin himself said it: 'What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel works of nature.'

Of course that's bleak, but there's no law saying the truth has to be cheerful; no point shooting the messenger - science - and no sense in preferring an alternative world view just because it feels more comfortable. In any case, science isn't all bleak. Nor, by the way, is science an arrogant know-all. Any scientist worthy of the name will warm to your quotation from Socrates: 'Wisdom is knowing that you don't know.' What else drives us to find out?

What saddens me most, Sir, is how much you will be missing if you turn your back on science. I have tried to write about the poetic wonder of science myself, but may I take the liberty of presenting you with a book by another author? It is The Demon-Haunted World by the lamented Carl Sagan. I'd call your attention especially to the subtitle: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

• Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His latest book is 'Unweaving the Rainbow'.


20 May 00 - GMO - Officials fail to check source of GM pollution

James Meikle

Guardian ... Saturday 20 May 2000


No goverment officials have yet been to Canada to investigate the contamination of British crops by genetically modified material, more than a month after they were alerted to the mistake.

Contamination of conventional plant seed with rogue GM pollen from plants grown at least half a mile away on the prairies is being blamed by the international company Advanta as the probable cause of the mistake that has led to the planting of thousands of acres of tainted oil-seed rape in the last two springs.

The government believes neither the company nor hundreds of farmers have committed an offence because they did not know of the contamination, although officials insist they are keeping the matter under review. The ministry of agriculture said no one had visited Advanta's Canadian arm in Winnipeg, Manitoba, or the site of the alleged cross-contamination in Alberta, although it was now considering sending an official.

"There were other more pressing requirements: finding out where we stood legally and whether there was any environmental or public health risk," a spokesman said.

The admission came as Advanta and its seed merchant distributors continued to seek the exact locations of farms that used the contaminated rape seed. Advanta UK said most were likely to be in the north of England and Scotland. "We still don't know the precise distribution of it. We wish we did."

Farmers who had bought the seed were still reluctant to identify themselves publicly last night for fear of damaging their own businesses . Many want the government to announce a compensation package - an option so far ruled out by ministers.

Advanta in Britain was unable to say whether the seeds were contimated by other companies' products or its own. The technology for the genetic material found in the seed was developed by Monsanto, which licenses many seed companies.

The government still holds that its initial advice was that no offence had been committed but "we are continuing to examine the facts and will take action as appropriate".

Two advisory committees and the food standards agency also said there was no threat to the environment or health. Ministers were awaiting the response of the advisory committee on animal feed.

The health and safety executive had not been consulted because it was "not considered a body to take a lead on any issues involved", nor had the crown prosecution service been consulted , despite the fact that breaking environmental protection law is a criminal offence .

Advanta in Canada last night insisted it had internal evidence that pointed "very strongly" towards cross pollination rather than errors in any other part of the process including shipping, as suggested by Canadain minsiter Lyle Vanclief yesterday. But identifying the source would require very expensive tests .

Howard Morris, its general manager, said no official from Britain or other countries affected - Sweden, France and Germany - had visited. "I don't think that is unusual. In a situation like this, it is government to government and we have had discussions with Canadian government officials."


20 May 00 - GMO - Genetically modified crops

Patrick Barkham

Guardian ... Saturday 20 May 2000


As oilseed rape's distinctive yellow crop came into bloom in fields across Britain, the government kept quiet about contaminated GM seeds. Are GM crop trials really safe?

Special report

Key fact: Distance across which GM oilseed rape spread to normal crop in Canada: 800m. Separation distance for GM oilseed rape trials in Britain: 200m

Why are GM crops in the news again?

The government has admitted that more than 30,000 acres of ordinary rapeseed sown by up to 600 British farmers this season and last year contained genetically modified rapeseed. The contaminated seed is also believed to have been sown in smaller quantities on fields in France, Sweden and Germany.

How did it happen?

Conventional rapeseed sold by Canadian company Advanta Seeds was tested by the German state, Baden-Wurttemberg, and found to contain GM seed . Advanta was alerted and carried out its own tests which revealed a "very low" GM presence in up to 1% of seeds grown in 1998 and sold in the last two years. According to press reports, the contamination occurred after orthodox rapeseed was grown more than 800 metres away from the nearest GM varieties.

Who is to blame?

It is believed to be an accident, but the government has been criticised for the way it attempted to sneak the information out in a written answer to a parliamentary question yesterday. It was also slow to tell the public: Advanta informed the government on 17 April , but, as oilseed rape's distinctive yellow crop came into bloom in fields across Britain, the ministry of agriculture kept quiet .

Is there a health risk?

Not in this case, claim the government. The genetically modified rape that was inadvertently grown in Britain "has already been assessed and cleared for food use and for field trials in the UK" the junior agriculture minister Joyce Quin says. She points out that the government's advisory body on GM issues, Acre (The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment), and the new Food Standards Agency say there is no risk to the environment or public health.

But the accidental spread of GM rape seed shows just how difficult it is to isolate GM crops and prevent their cross-pollination into orthodox crops. This spread of GM crops carries unforeseeable consequences , including the fear that the triumph of weed-resistant GM crops could trigger the emergence of new "superweeds" or replace precious biodiversity with sterile monocultures .

What is the government's position?

It is illegal to grow GM crops in Britain, but not to test them. Despite his recent acceptance of consumer fears about GM crops, Tony Blair's government has resisted calls for a moratorium on GM crop tests.

GM crops, including oilseed rape, maize and sugar beet, are being grown and tested in sites across Britain, many near villages. Crop trials are monitored by Acre, the new Food Standards Agency, and a new part of the Human Genetics Commission. The government has the final say on whether to approve or ban crops and trials.

How do the crop trials stop GM cross-pollination?

A plant can only cross-pollinate with another plant from the same or closely related species. The government claims that the likelihood of GM crops cross-pollinating with conventional plants is miniscule. GM crops are cultivated within "buffer zones" to reduce the chances of a GM crop cross-pollinating. These separation distances vary according to the species concerned.

Interestingly, a recent study by Acre finds that the "complete genetic isolation of oilseed rape, were it required, would have to be on a regional (tens of kilometres ) scale". As the spread of GM seed in Canada showed, an 800-metre separation was not enough . Despite the Acre findings, the separation distance for oilseed rape trials has been set at 200m in Britain, according to government rules.

What now?

The spread of GM seeds in oilseed rape can only increase the public scepticism about the safety of GM crop trials. The fact that seeds became contaminated over a distance of more than 800 metres will increase pressure on the government to tighten crop trial rules . Public hostility to GM trials could also set back attempts by the US government and US-based multinationals to open up the EU market to their GM produce.


20 May 00 - GMO - Brown 'could have stopped' GM planting

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 20 May 2000


Nick Brown , the Minister of Agriculture, was accused of reacting like "a frightened rabbit " yesterday after lengthy delays in warning that genetically modified oilseed rape had been inadvertently planted on 600 farms.

(UK Correspondent's note: possibly MAFF was involved in the GM seed contamination to circumvent government controld on the introduction of GM crops)

Although Advanta, the seed company, informed the ministry of the error on April 17 , inquiries by The Telegraph disclosed that the Scottish Executive was not told until Friday, May 12 - five days before the Government publicised the problem in a written answer in the Lords.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was not informed by the ministry until last Monday , and the National Assembly of Wales was not told until late on Tuesday .

Last night, as fears grew that environmental activists were preparing to embark on the large-scale destruction of oilseed rape crops, Conservatives demanded why it took so long for the ministry to act. Tim Yeo, shadow minister of agriculture, accused the Government of behaving disgracefully and being "totally unprepared ".

"Ministers have been staring like frightened rabbits in the headlights over this," he said. "We want to know why it took so long if they did not even consult with all the responsible agencies of Government. This could have prevented some of the seed being planted."

He said he would table questions in the Commons next week, calling on Mr Brown to provide a "full breakdown" of all the consultations held by the ministry between April 17 and last Wednesday. "In the meantime, as a minimum step, the Government should immediately notify all the farmers affected , telling them to act now and separate the crops ."

The Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday that it had spent the month "gathering legal advice and taking advice" from a range of statutory advisory committees and had talked with the Food Standards Agency. It did not explain why the three regions had been told at different times.

It also repeated that there were no plans to destroy the contaminated crops , covering 11,750 acres . A further 22,000 acres were sown and harvested last year and oil extracted from these crops had already entered the food chain.

The ministry has denied that the crops posed a threat to the environment and the Food Standards Agency has declared that the oil, used in margarine, chocolate, cakes and biscuits, posed no risk to consumers. It is believed that up to 60 per cent of the contaminated seeds were sown in Scotland and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland criticised the ministry's slowness in announcing the problem.

A spokesman said: "The earlier we knew the better we would have been able to deal with the problem. Sowing of much of the spring rape crops in Scotland would have taken place in the middle of April. It could have been stopped . Most of it won't even have emerged above the ground yet."

The National Farmers Unions in England and Wales and in Scotland have held talks and are taking legal advice on the "financial and marketing implications ".

The fiasco began on April 3 when spot checks in the German state of Baden-Würtenberg showed traces of GM contamination in similar seed. A week later, Advanta stopped sales of suspect seeds to British farmers after conducting preliminary tests that seemed to support the German findings.

Yesterday, the ministry denied that it was considering legal action against Advanta Seeds UK, a Dutch-owned company. A spokesman said: "Our legal advice at present is that no offence has been committed in the United Kingdom under the Environmental Protection Act."

He added that there was no evidence that the contaminated seed had been distributed deliberately. "It was an accident." However, Friends of the Earth claimed that it had taken legal advice suggesting that Advanta could be liable for criminal charges .

The Consumers' Association called on the Government to act "quickly and decisively" to prevent the contaminated oilseed rape from getting into the food chain. Sheila McKechnie, its director, said: "This scandal makes a mockery of the efforts that supermarkets and manufacturers have gone to secure non-GM supplies - it was being grown in the UK all along and being used in our food."


20 May 00 - GMO - GM error farmer wants damages

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Saturday 20 May 2000


A farmer who unwittingly grew 20 acres of genetically modified oilseed rape has demanded compensation .

He urged the Government to issue a clear statement on the subject of liability so that the crop can be destroyed before it starts to flower .

The 44-year-old East Anglia cereal and beef farmer, who does not want to be named, said that the Government and Advanta UK, which imported the seed, must clarify the position quickly . "I have been thinking of going organic and I do not want to have anything on my land that might hinder that. But I need to know who is going to pay for the lost crop . It will flower fairly shortly and I want it down before then," he said yesterday.

He was the only farmer, of 600 believed to have grown the crop, who was willing to speak to The Times last night. He said: "I did not want any GM crops, I would never have volunteered for a GM trial and I do not want this crop. "I have made my views known to the seed merchant, who is in touch with Advanta. I want a guarantee from them that I shall be given compensation ."

A spokesman for Advantsaid that it was awaiting direction on the issue of compensation from the Government. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment said that they were still examining the issues.

The farmer said that the seed had cost him £800 for 20 acres and he had expected to earn about £120 an acre for the crop. He said that he wanted compensation not only for purchase and cultivation, but for risk to his organic plans .

There was confusion over how the seed became contaminated after Lyle Vanclief, the Canadian Agriculture Minister, said that the seed had been mixed during shipment to Europe - the problem had not been caused in Canada. But Advanta UK, an Advanta Canada subsidiary, said that the contamination had been caused by pollination.

Meanwhile, MPs on the Commons science and technology committee said last night that they had asked the Prince of Wales to face questions on his views on GM food. Buckingham Palace said that the Prince was unlikely to attend.


20 May 00 - GMO - Victim of oilseed rape blunder fears for his farm

By David Brown

Telegraph ... Saturday 20 May 2000


One of the 600 farmers who unwittingly sowed genetically modified oilseed rape in his fields spoke out yesterday about the way the Government had handled the affair and about his fears for his farm if it was attacked by environmental activists. The farmer, who asked that his identity and that of his farm in the South of England should not be disclosed, stood in his blighted fields and demanded to know why the Government had waited a month to go public .

"If the Government had told us sooner we might have been able to do something about it . If they want to destroy these crops, and so far they say they won't, they will have to act quickly because I expect my oilseed rape to come into flower by the middle of next week. By then the pollen will be spreading. If they did destroy it, it would be like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted because farmers planted the same type of seed last year - and those crops have been harvested and consumed."

He also attacked the lack of clear information about the blunder . "The first thing I knew about it was in the news on Wednesday morning. I immediately contacted the National Farmers' Union and they gave me a list of the three varieties of oilseed rape said to be contaminated with GMs. It turned out that one of reference numbers given to the union was wrong. It was different from the one I got later from my merchant. I didn't know whether I was affected or not because of that. As it turned out, I am."

His main worry is that he grows 50 acres of the rape on land rented from a neighbour who also runs a farm shop. "We are both deeply worried that my name becomes known. We fear that activists will attack the crop - and that means damage to my neighbour's farm - maybe even his shop."

Another worry is whether thousands of pounds will be wiped off the value of his crop when he harvests it in August. He also questioned the Commons statement made by Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, that the GM rape would not cross-pollinate with other plants. "I don't know how he can be so sure that these plants are sterile and won't cross-pollinate," he said.


20 May 00 - GMO - MPs invite Prince to explain his views

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 20 May 2000


The Prince of Wales is to be asked to explain his "anti-science" views on genetic engineering to a committee of MPs. MPs of the all-party science and technology committee issued the invitation after the Prince's Reith lecture this week on the theme of working "with the grain of nature" rather than manipulating it.

St James's Palace played down the prospect that he would agree saying it was unprecedented for a member of the Royal Family to give evidence. But MPs pointed out that the Prince had held a private meeting last year with the Commons environment, transport and regional affairs committee to give his views on planning.

Nigel Beard (Lab Bexleyheath and Crayford), until recently a member of the science and technology committee, said: "Prince Charles has come out with some very controversial views on GM crops. It was the same with his statements on modern architecture which had a dampening effect on new architects. Now he is stepping into the middle of this with a green mysticism and his opinions have to be questioned. I don't believe that we should have the Prince, or any other eminent person, causing anxiety among the public about a major subject from which we expect to gain prosperity."

Dr Ian Gibson (Lab. Norwich North) told Radio 4's World at One: "Prince Charles has been taking an interest in public affairs which is indeed welcome, particularly in GM crops. He has quite rightly put his oar in to discuss these things. I think it would be a good idea if he gave evidence to us."


20 May 00 - GMO - Prince called to Commons GM inquiry

By Paul Waugh, Political Correspondent

Independent ... Saturday 20 May 2000


The Prince of Wales could become the first member of the Royal Family to appear before a Parliamentary select committee following an invitation to explain his views on the genetic modification of crops.

The all-party Commons Science and Technology Committee is to invite Prince Charles to appear before it as part of an investigation into biotechnology.

MPs issued the historic invitation after the Prince used a BBC Reith lecture to warn of the "disastrous consequences " of GM technology.

St James's Palace refused to say last night whether the Prince would agree, although it pointed out that it would be unprecedented for a member of the Royal Family to appear before a select committee.

The MPs' request coincided with growing consumer anger at news that hundreds of farms have been planted with oilseed rape containing GM seeds .

Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson, Norwich North, told Radio 4's World at One: "Prince Charles... has put his oar in to discuss these things. Since the select committee in Parliament is knowledgable on these issues, I think it would be a good idea if he came to give evidence."

Asked whether he thought the Prince was adopting an "anti-science line", Dr Gibson replied: "Yes, I certainly do."

However, Dr Michael Clark, the committee's Tory chairman, said it was "improper" for any member to reveal details of discussions held in private.

Nigel Beard, Labour MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, said the Prince should answer questions in public about his controversial views and not hide behind the cloak of privilege.

Mr Beard said: "Prince Charles has come out with some very controversial views on GM crops. It was the same with his statements on modern architecture which had a dampening effect on new architects. Now he is stepping into this with a green mysticism and his opinions have to be questioned.

"I don't believe that we should have Prince Charles or any other eminent person damaging or causing anxiety about a major subject like science and technology from which we expect to gain prosperity.

"What is not tolerable is that he uses his authority as a member of the Royal Family to cast aspersions and then claims privilege when people want to hold him to account."

A spokeswoman for the Commons committee clerks' office said the Prince could not be forced to turn up.