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GE Rapeseed Scandal Rocks Europe

Anger as GM seeds of discontent spread over Europe
Thursday, May 18, 2000
Reuters
By Giles Elgood

A rising tide of green anger greeted the disclosure on Thursday that
farmers across Europe are unwittingly growing genetically modified crops.

Environmentalists demanded that the "bad seed" be torn up as the company
that imported it said that oilseed rape contaminated with GM material was
growing in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden.

The British government had said on Wednesday that farmers were unknowingly
growing such crops after buying oilseed rape seeds from Canada that had
been cross-pollinated from a genetically modified crop growing in a nearby
field.

On Thursday, seed company Advanta, which imported the seed from Canada,
disclosed that Sweden, Germany and France were also affected.

In Stockholm, the Agriculture Department said 14 tonnes of seeds imported
into Sweden in 1999 from Canada contained 0.4 percent of genetically
modified rapeseed.

Advata spokesman David Buckeridge told Reuters the areas sown with
GM-contaminated seed were small and that there was no risk to health. Nor
had any laws been broken.

"In Germany and France in particular we're talking about hundreds of
hectares in an area of millions of hectares," Buckeridge told Reuters.

ENVIRONMENTAL ANGER

Environmentalists were not convinced.

"Leaving these crops in the ground is just not an option,"

Adrian Bebb, a food and biotechnology spokesman for Friends of the Earth
(FoE), a leading anti-GM environmental campaign group, said. "Advanta Seeds
are tracking down all the farmers and this has to happen very quickly."

Organic farmers fear their crops will be contaminted by GM material even it
is grown some distance away from their own farms.

Used in foods ranging from chocolate to ice cream, the rape may well be
sold on to consumers as a GM-free product, despite strict rules on food
labelling and uncertainty about possible hazards associated with the
technology.

The Soil Association, the organic farmers' mouthpiece, demanded government
action.

"We believe it's the government's responsibility to track down the 600
farms involved and destroy the crop," the group's director Patrick Holden
told Reuters.

Advanta Seeds UK, part of a 50-50 venture between Anglo-Swedish group
AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) and Dutch cooperative Cosun that imported the seeds
to Europe, said it told the British government about them last month.

British farmers sowed about 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) with the affected
stocks last year, and about 4,700 hectares (11,610 acres) in spring 2000.

About 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of oilseed rape are grown each
year in Britain, where it is illegal to grow GM crops for commercial use.
The Food Standards Agency said the seeds appeared to have been affected in
Canada by a Monsanto Co (PHA.N) GM rapeseed crop.

FoE's Bebb said it was "scandalous" that the government sat on the news for
a month. The government said the contamination was an "unfortunate
incident" with "no risk to public health or the environment."

A clutch of farm-scale government-backed trials of GM crops are currently
operating across Britain. Green activists have been arrested after trashing
the crops in well-publicised demonstrations.

Advanta said tests showed the contamination involved less than one percent
of the seed it had imported. The mixed GM and non-GM seed had in turn been
planted on less than one percent of the oilseed rape crop area in Britain.

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