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The BBC's Tom Fielden
"Environmentalists believe they can force the government to destroy the crops"
 real 28k

Baroness Hayman, UK Agriculture Minister
"We know that the company can trace where it is planted"
 real 28k

Head to head
Adrian Bebb and Dr Richard Turner debate the issues
 real 28k

Friday, 19 May, 2000, 01:30 GMT 02:30 UK
Legal action over GM seeds rejected
Rape seed
Farmers are worried about selling their crop
The government has said it considered legal moves against the firm that accidentally sold genetically-modified seeds to farmers but was told no action was possible.

The minister for food safety, Baroness Hayman, told the BBC that expert advisors had so far concluded that no offence had been committed by Advanta Seeds UK.

However farmers say they may yet sue the company for loss of earnings and environmental campaigners are also considering legal action.

About 600 British farmers have inadvertently sown bags of oil-seed rape, containing 1% GM seeds, over the past two years but the government insists the crop poses no threat to human health or to the environment.

Advanta, which sourced the seeds in Canada, said the problem came about because a crop had been contaminated through cross-pollination with a neighbouring field of rape in 1998.

Farmers are now concerned that they will lose sales to customers who operate a GM-free policy.

'No law broken'

Environmental campaigners have called for the crops to be traced and destroyed but Baroness Hayman told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that the government had been told it had no legal right to do so.

She said: "We have powers to destroy crops that have been unlawfully released if they pose a threat to human health or the environment.


Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has addressed the Commons over GM seeds
Nick Brown: Government acted quickly

"When we asked the independent committees, they have said they do not, so the legal advice at the moment is that we do not have powers to do that."

Baroness Hayman added that scientific experts had concluded that the crops posed no threat to human health or the environment, and that therefore the Environmental Protection Act 1990 had not been broken.

Earlier, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the House of Commons that his department had immediately acted to assess the problem.

Mr Brown, who said his department learned of the mix-up on 17 April, admitted the events made it clear "there are gaps in the arrangements relating to seed purity at international level".

Under government policy the commercial planting of GM crops in the UK is banned until 2003 while tests are carried out.

'Scandal'

Friends of the Earth food campaigner Adrian Bebb told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What is scandalous is the government has sat on this for a month.

"As soon as they heard about it they should have issued a warning and had a product recall on those bags of seeds."

Mr Bebb said the government should launch an inquiry into the incident.

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See also:

18 May 00 | Europe
Euro alert over GM seed
17 May 00 | UK
Alert over GM seeds
18 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Polluted pollen's 'limited impact'
16 May 00 | UK
GM pollen found in honey
03 May 00 | Sci/Tech
US to strengthen bio-food rules
17 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
GM trial sites unveiled
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