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The Government says...   to which we say...


Further to the Answer given by my Rt Hon Friend yesterday, I would like to make the following statement:

  contamination, that is.
I would stress at the outset that no threat to public health or the environment has occurred.   how can he know that?
The Government was advised on 17 April by Advanta Seeds UK that some of its supplies of conventional rapeseed, sold and sown in 1999 and 2000 in several EU Member States, possibly including the UK, contained a small proportion - about 1% - of genetically modified rapeseed. At that time the full facts were not known.   the Government kept this secret for a month, while the seeds were planted.
We immediately sought to establish the details and to check the status of the particular genetic modification involved. It appears that a non-GM seed crop being produced in Canada in 1998 had come into contact with a GM crop being commercially produced in the area, resulting in a small amount of GM seed in the conventional seed. The company has advised us that production of seed in 1999 was unaffected. In the UK, about 9,000 hectares were sown with affected stocks last year and about 4,700 were sown this spring.   but a month later the Government still cannot tell us where these contaminated crops are growing.

The genetic modification involved - known as RT 73 - is one that had previously been approved in the UK under our strict regulatory regime for food use and field trials in 1995 and 1997.

The genetic modification in question had previously been examined by the UK's expert Committees - the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
(ACRE) in respect of environmental safety; Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) in respect of food safety. Both had cleared it.


a limited assessment of the variety (Westar, RT 73) was undertaken in the UK by the former ACRE Committee (hand picked for their connections with the biotech industry). This was under the old regulations, before it was necessary to consider the wider environmental effects. It may have approval for field trials - but not random plantings.

We cannot find anything about its use for food

This crop variety does not have a European marketing consent. It appears that our Government has not even seen the application yet.

We believe there is no threat to the environment because the GM variety is sterile. It is difficult to see how it could cross-pollinate with other plants.   the crop is not entirely sterile. Cross-pollination is therefore inevitable.

It should also be remembered that oil produced from the crop is indistinguishable from conventional rape oil: no modified DNA will be present.
The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) and the Food Standards Agency have looked at this specific incident and concluded that there is no risk.






at the time of this Statement, ACRE had not even met to discuss the consequences of the "accident".

Nick Brown did not consult the Government's own statutory nature bodies - English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales or the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Bryan Johnson, English Nature's top GM expert, has said: "None of the statutory consultation agencies new 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." (The Independent on Sunday, 21/05/00, p1)


It remains the Government's policy that commercial planting of GM crops will not be permitted in the UK until the results of the Farm Scale Evaluation have
been considered. These trials still have two years to run.

4,700 hectares of GM contaminated oilseed rape are being grown now at unknown locations across Britain and the harvested crops will not be differentiated from other oilseed rape. If this does not constitute commercial growing, what does?

If the Government is serious about this statement, they must DIG IT UP!

I regret these developments;   we consider it a catastrophe.
but I repeat: there has been no threat to health or the environment.   he seems to be alone in this belief (see above).
We moved quickly to establish the facts and officials have been in continuous contact with the company.   if only the Government were as keen to talk with the public as they are with a biotech company!
These events have made it clear that there are gaps in the arrangements relating to seed purity at
international level.
  have they only just realised this? The gaps are so big that you could grow crops in them.
My Hon. Friend accordingly announced yesterday that we would:-   too little, too late.

  • press for concerted international action to seek new legal standards for seed purity, so that in particular these standards take in account the presence of GM material in conventional seed stock
  the regulations must begin with the aim of eliminating GM contamination, not allowing it
  • Further, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been setting up a system for spot checking of seed imports for GM material and that system will be in place from 1 June; and
  it took spot checks in Germany to discover the contamination had occurred, and only an imminent announcement by the Swedish government made ours reveal the fact.
  • work with the industry on a Code of Practice about production and sowing of conventional seed, including separation distances, and monitoring of GM content continues.
  in other words woefully inadequate safeguards determined by the biotech industry.


Frequently Asked Questions about GM contaminated Oilseed Rape


As the seeds are sterile, need the crops be dug up?

Yes. The Government has told the press that the GM seed will grow up 'male sterile' - That is not really relevant however because its female parts can still be pollinated by other rape plants in the field and still produce a seed (which will be both fertile and GM). These seeds, if allowed to set, can stay in the soil up to 8 years. This means that farmers will have to deal with the GM contamination for years to come. There is some evidence that GM seeds persist in the soil even longer. (GM Rapeseed contamination scandal - UK Briefing - 22nd May 2000, Greenpeace)

Will it limit what conventional crops farmers can grow on the land in future? Yes. Tesco's have pledged they will not buy vegetables or fruit grown in fields which have previously yielded a GM crop. Most other supermarkets now follow a GM free own-brand policy which will make them wary of contaminated farm produce.
Will farmers growing these crops be able to go organic in the future? No. GM contaminated land can't become organic. This is particularly an issue for farmers wishing to turn organic - they may now have GM contaminated land through no choice or fault of their own if they grew this rape last year. (GM Rapeseed contamination scandal - UK Briefing - 22nd May 2000, Greenpeace)
How will this affect the future of food and farming in the UK? Badly. The Government is signing away the GM free status of UK commercial agriculture - what sort of a message does that send to foreign markets who will not touch GM contaminated goods. Since the introduction of Monsanto GM rapeseed, Canadian rapeseed exports to Europe have almost entirely ceased as a result of consumer resistance. US maize exports have slumped for the same reason. By contrast, the UK Home Grown Cereals Authority and the British Potato Marketing Board currently advertises their wheat and potatoes abroad as 'GM-free'. This may well be the tip of the iceberg - so far no rape or corn seed imports have been tested by the Government. (GM Rapeseed contamination scandal - UK Briefing - 22nd May 2000, Greenpeace)
Should the farmers be compensated? Yes. The contaminated seeds were bought and planted by them unknowingly. Compensation is due from the Government, Advanta seeds UK or Monsanto. It is for them to work out between them who foots the bill.
Will it affect land values? Yes. According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors the fact of GM contamination may depress agricultural land prices. (GM Rapeseed contamination scandal - UK Briefing - 22nd May 2000, Greenpeace). NFU Mutual Insurance won't provide insurance cover against GM cross-pollination or decline in land value due to GM crops.
So, what should the farmers do now? DIG IT UP!
Further information

GM Rapeseed contamination scandal - UK Briefing - 22nd May 2000, Greenpeace

and see the links page



1) Contamination of soya seed in France 1996 - seed source USA

2) Unapproved GM seed for 600,000 acres was released by mistake by Monsanto in Canada in 1997 - seed source Canada

3) Batch of 10,000 tonnes of sugar was contaminated when Monsanto sent an unauthorised consignment of experimental GM sugar beet to a refinery in Holland by mistake in 1997 - crop source Holland

4) A Swedish field test of GE rapeseed in 1997 contained two unauthorized lines in addition to the one line authorized by the government Board of Agriculture for testing. The mix-up was unintentional and was uncovered during analysis of test data by the testing company, Sweden’s Svalöf Weibull. The lines, however, were produced by German transnational AgrEvo at its Canadian subsidiary, and this was where the mix-up took place (Further information: Peder Weibull, Svalöf Weibull, +46-418 66 70 00 Robert
Andrén, Board of Agriculture, +46-36 15 50 00) - seed source Canada

5) an experimental GM OSR crop in the south of England was harvested and mixed in-store by mistake on the farm with its non-GM commercial crop equivalent in 1997 - crop source UK.

6) GM contaminated corn seed in Germany and Switzerland in 1999 - seed source USA.

7) European OSR contamination 2000 and before - seed source Canada.

And these are only the ones that got discovered.


Yet more detail
Visit the Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace websites for regularly updated briefings and press releases.






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Scarborough, UK, May 2000