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Jeffrey Smith, Genetic ID
"All the rest had some level of contamination"
 real 28k

Garnick Van Essen, European Seed Association
"Problem of differentiating between GM, non-GM and GMO-free"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
GM seed leak 'tip of iceberg'
greenpeace destroying gm crops
Greenpeace uproots GM crops in a Norfolk field
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A US agricultural expert says he thinks the mixing of genetically-modified (GM) and conventional seeds is probably widespread and impossible to prevent.

The expert, Jeffrey Smith, was speaking after the row which convulsed Europe over farmers who unwittingly planted conventional oilseed rape containing traces of a sterile GM variety.

Mr Smith is vice-president of Genetic ID, of Fairfield, Iowa, which screens agricultural produce for GM material.

The company found that more than half of 20 random samples of conventional seed taken from US distributors contained some GM seed.

Genetic ID told New Scientist magazine it thought the European incident could be just the tip of the iceberg.

In its own tests last year, 12 out of 20 randomly-chosen consignments of conventional maize seed containied detectable traces of GM maize. Two consignments contained almost 1% GM maize.

Mixing 'inevitable'

The largest supplier of both conventional and GM seeds in the US, Pioneer Hi-Bred, said low levels of mingling were inevitable.

A company spokesman, Doyle Karr, said: "Absolute zero purity is not achieved in any agricultural produce anywhere in the food chain."

He said Pioneer's conventional maize seeds, which are exported to and grown in Europe, could well contain traces of Bt maize.

That is a variety which makes a toxin lethal to larval pests, which Pioneer says European governments have already approved.

New Scientist says other GM crops which have not won approval have probably been planted in Europe.

Soya in the UK

In 1998 the United Kingdom imported 491,000 tonnes of soybeans for sowing from the US and Canada.

Even if only 1% had been contaminated, that would still mean about 5,000 tonnes of GM soybeans entering the country.

Jeffrey Smith of Genetic ID believes a 0.1% limit should be set for accidental contamination.

"You can't offer 0%, because it's not scientifically feasible or defensible."

Maize 'problem'

Further potential evidence of the inadvertent planting of GM seeds was claimed by environmental campaign group Greenpeace on Wednesday.

It says a draft of a letter which the European Seed Association planned to send to European Union governments and others referred to "a problem with the European maize crop".

The version that was eventually sent contained no reference to any such problem.

But a Greenpeace spokeswoman told BBC News Online it remained confident that the problem was real, and that from 5% to 15% of the European maize crop planted this year was contaminated with GM seeds.

She said there was a lesser degree of contamination of the 1999 European maize crop, with some illegal GMOs entering the food chain as a result.

The UK Government's GM unit said it knew nothing about the Greenpeace report.

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16 May 00 | UK
GM pollen found in honey
17 May 00 | UK
Alert over GM seeds
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