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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"A stark message for 500 farmers who unknowingly planted the contaminated seed"
 real 28k

Simon Preece of Pioneer Hi-Bred
"It's impossible to guarantee that any seed is 100% GM free"
 real 28k

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

Friday, 26 May, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
GM seed fears grow
Police breaking up a protest against GM food in Genoa
Police breaking up a protest against GM food in Genoa
The world's leading supplier of seeds, Pioneer Hi-Bred, has said claims that up to 15% of Europe's maize crop contains genetically modified material may well be true.

A company spokesman told the BBC he was not surprised by the claim, which was made on Wednesday by the environmental group, Greenpeace.



"It seems that the genie is out of the bottle"

British Government adviser
The spokesman, Simlon Preece, said the GM material could have crossed into supposedly pure supplies via wind pollination or contamination from seed-crushing machines, which process both types of seed.

The admission comes just days after a row broke out across Europe when another company, Advanta, admitted it had mistakenly sold seeds containing traces of GM material to farmers in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden.

Embarrassment

The BBC environment correspondent, Alex Kirby, says that Pioneer Hi-Bred's admission will embarrass the British government which has argued that it is in control of the spread of genetically modified material.

Greenpeace protesters uprooting GM crops
Greenpeace protesters uprooting GM crops
He says it also raises questions about the ability of other species to withstand contamination by GM crops, despite the European ban on their commercial planting.

On Thursday, the Italian police were called in to break up protests outside a biotechnology conference in Genoa by several thousand environmentalists demonstrating against the spread of GM material in Europe.

Reports say that about 20 policemen and protesters were injured in the clashes.

Public anger

As public alarm and anger over Advanta's admission grew, France ordered the destruction of 600 hectares of crops containing the mixed rapeseed, and Sweden told its farmers to root out their rapeseed plants within two weeks unless they obtained special permission.

Greenpeace said it would take legal action against Germany to enforce the destruction of GM crops there.

The British Government said it would take no action as it believed genetically modified plants did not pose a risk to health.

However one of the government's senior independent advisers, Professor Alan Gray, indicated to the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday that he thought it was in any case too late to halt the spread of GM seeds in Britain.

Professor Gray said: "It seems that in terms of GM crops the genie is out of the bottle in this country."

"But it is not out of control," he insisted, emphasising that the contaminated rapeseed posed no risk to people or the environment.

Common European stance

European agriculture ministers are gathering in Portugal this weekend ahead of talks about GM crops on Monday and Tuesday.

Britain's minister, Nick Brown, said he had proposed that they should try to adopt a common approach to the issues raised by the Advanta disclosure.

Genoa protest
Concern over GM crops has been growing across Europe

The Pioneer Hi-Bred spokesman, Mr Preece, whose company supplies both genetically modified seeds and non GM seeds to farmers all over Europe, appealed to the ministers not to impose strict rules on seed suppliers to ensure purity of supply.

He said that while Pioneer had the technology to detect impurities down to 0.1% of a batch, to be required to do so in every case would ruin many companies.

In theory, he said, this could mean the rejection of nine of out every 10 tonnes.

Mr Preece said Pioneer and other suppliers would be happier with an impurity target closer to 1%.

Analysts say that Pioneer's admission will fuel the anger of environmental groups, who fear there is now no way of halting the spread of GM material, and no way of ensuring that any food product is 100% GM free.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Sci/Tech
GM seed leak 'tip of iceberg'
16 May 00 | UK
GM pollen found in honey
17 May 00 | UK
Alert over GM seeds
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