GM Crops Said 'Planted
For Years By Mistake'
By Nick Nuttall - Environment Correspondent
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.


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