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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"It should be possible to trace the GM crops"
 real 28k

Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Euro alert over GM seed
field of GM crops
The areas accidentally sown to GM crops are said to be small
An Anglo-Swedish firm has admitted selling ordinary rape seed mixed with genetically modified seed to farmers in Sweden, France and Germany, as well as Britain.

The firm, Advanta Seeds, said the amount of GM seed in the oilseed rape crops was small.

Advanta Seeds spokesman David Buckeridge said: "In Germany and France in particular we are talking about hundreds of hectares in an area of millions of hectares."

The European Commission said it was up to EU member states to ensure the seeds of GM crops were not mixed with traditional varieties.

German farm
A farm in Germany - one of the countries which received GM seed

It said new Europe-wide seed legislation was not expected before the autumn.

"It's up to member states to trace where it came from and why it happened. They must take the action," said Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne.

The British Government admitted on Wednesday that GM seed had contaminated batches of rape seed and been sown by mistake on hundreds of British farms.

Advanta Seeds is a joint venture between Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca Plc and Cosun, a Dutch co-operative.

Food chain

Advanta Seeds UK believes that its rape seed was contaminated by pollen from a GM crop in a neighbouring field in Canada in 1998.

The resulting seeds were then sold as non-GM, even though they did contain some modified genes.

Mr Buckeridge said the crop was in the fields now, but some contaminated seed might also have been grown in the previous year's crop.

He added that even if the crop had been crushed and the oil used for food, no DNA would have entered the human food chain.

EU Commission building, Brussels
The EU says member states must do their own investigations

Sweden's Agriculture Department said on Thursday that 14 tonnes of seeds imported from Canada in 1999 contained 0.4% genetically modified seed.

The seeds were imported by Svalof Weibull AB and sold to seed companies in central Sweden.

The department has asked Svalof Weibull to provide a full report on how the seed entered Sweden and to say what steps it is taking to prevent a recurrence.

Detection difficult

Using techniques similar to those used for DNA fingerprinting, scientists can analyse a sample of the plant or seed and detect minute traces of modified genes, even if the level of contamination is very low, Toby Murcott of BBC Science says.

However, if there is no DNA present, as is the case with many plant extracts including oils, then detecting GM material is much harder.

The European Union is funding a project that aims to identify GM components in food, because without such tests it will be impossible to enforce any regulations requiring GM food to be labelled.

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See also:

18 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Polluted pollen's 'limited impact'
18 May 00 | UK
Anger over rogue GM crop
17 May 00 | UK
Alert over GM seeds
16 May 00 | UK
GM pollen found in honey
03 May 00 | Sci/Tech
US to strengthen bio-food rules
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