- 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",
- "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
- 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
- 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.
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