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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Urgent tests on GM crop seeds
GM crop trials protest
Environmentalists want an end to GM crop field trials
Urgent checks are to be carried out on genetically modified seeds after a trial in the UK was contaminated by rogue seeds.

Government minister Elliott Morley has told the BBC an urgent investigation will be carried out into how seeds from a GM crop experiment became mixed with a strain unauthorised for planting.

Aventis has been given very strong advice to make sure this doesn't happen again

Scottish Executive spokesman
But he rejected calls from environmental groups for an immediate end to the field testing of GM crops in Britain.

The experiment involved trials of GM rapeseed crops at 12 sites in England and two in Scotland.

Ministers say the mix-up - which occurred during the seed production process - does not threaten the environment or make the experiments invalid.

But the Scottish Executive said it was a "serious breach" of GM regulations.

Legal action considered

At this stage it is not known how the two GM seed varieties came to be mixed and in all cases the spoiled crops will be harvested and destroyed.

Defra minister Elliot Morley
Elliot Morley: Annoyed over failure
The biotechnology company Aventis CropScience, which supplied the seeds, confirmed it had mistakenly included a small quantity of a different seed type.

The rogue seeds contained a gene giving resistance to two antibiotics and had been included in batches used in 25 British trials dating back to 1999.

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Minister Elliot Morley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "very annoyed" by this failure in quality control.

The government was considering whether to prosecute over the issue but there would be no end to GM crop field trials, he said.

"We have to have these trials to see if there are problems that can be identified. Clearly a problem has been identified."

He said if there were any further concerns over GM crops following the end of the three-year trials next year, there was a possibility of extending the moratorium on growing GM crops commercially.

"We will be looking at the full procedures which includes the role of the GM inspectorate and whether we need to strengthen that as well," he said.

Fears over trials

Environmental pressure groups say the findings are a cause for serious concern.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, told the Today programme the trial was an "accident waiting to happen" and the government should call an immediate halt to GM field crop trials.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has also called for the last winter plantings of oilseed rape in the trials, scheduled to start next week, to be called off.

But Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of the CropGen panel that promotes the science behind GM crops, said that this was little more than a "technical breach".

He said the crop concerned had already been approved for human consumption.

The GM Inspectorates for England and Scotland are investigating.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "Aventis has been given very strong advice to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Material was found in fields which are part of GM trials in Aberdeenshire and on plots belonging to the Scottish Agricultural College.

An Aventis CropScience spokesman said the organisation "moved swiftly" to inform the authorities after conducting an internal audit.

"This is not a safety issue since GM oilseed rape varieties containing these events have been grown in trials in the UK since 1989, and commercially in Canada since 1995 on many millions of acres, without one reported detrimental incident regarding human and animal health or the environment", he said.

The initial discovery of the unauthorised GM oilseed rape material was made following a routine audit by inspectors at the Scottish Agricultural College site near Aberdeen.

The sites carrying out the trials are:

  • Meden Vale, Nottinghamshire

  • Horningtoft, Norfolk

  • Aldborough, East Yorkshire

  • Winfarthing, Norfolk

  • Hinstock, Shropshire

  • Oakenshaw, Durham

  • Thorganby, Lincolnshire

  • Ludford, Lincolnshire

  • Bagley, Shropshire

  • Kilnwick Percy, East Yorkshire

  • Hilton, Dorset

  • Nafferton, East Yorkshire

  • Daviot, Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Agricultural College also in Aberdeenshire.

    The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
    "This blunder is certain to renew the controversy over GM crop trials"
    Patrick Holden, Soil Association
    "The trials were always an accident waiting to happen"
    Elliot Morley of Defra
    "The real damage is to the bio-tech companies"
    See also:

    03 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
    14 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
    26 Jul 02 | Politics
    20 Jun 00 | Scotland
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