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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The controversy drew protesters to the Ministry of Agriculture
 real 28k

Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Protest over GM blunder

Protesters have chained themselves inside the Ministry of Agriculture to call for the destruction of crops grown from genetically-modified seed which was sown by accident.

Police were called to supervise negotiations between ministry staff and the seven demonstrators near Whitehall, London.

The government knows of no reason why the crops should be destroyed

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
The action came as Agriculture Minister Nick Brown insisted there were "no health or environmental risks" from the GM crop.

The protesters are angry that the GM seeds were sown on 600 farms, by farmers who unwittingly had bought the seed from a supply in which the two types had been mixed up.

One of the farmers involved in that mix-up has said he willl destroy his crop of oilseed rape.

John Sanderson, who owns a 182-hectare mixed arable farm near Harleston, Norfolk, said he was flabbergasted when he learned that the seed he had bought was genetically modified.

He said he would take legal advice about securing compensation for the crop loss, which he said was worth 5,000.

Tuesday's Whitehall demonstration was organised by the Genetic Engineering Network, an affiliation of various environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

The group members were chained to each other and to doors inside the building in central London.

The group says the farmers involved should be compensated for their loss.

Crop 'unsaleable'

The contamination, which has resulted in more than 30,000 acres being planted with GM seed, centres on supplies produced by Advanta and imported from Canada.

The government was first told on 17 April about the mistake, but did not make it public until a month later.

Mr Brown said: "There are a number of legal issues that are still being examined within government.

"However, the government knows of no reason why the crops should be destroyed on health or environmental grounds."

Protester Theo Simon, 42, from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, said: "The farmers cannot sell their crops because supermarkets have refused to buy them.

"However, the government is prepared to leave them without compensation.

"The people inside want Nick Brown to explain why crops are being grown illegally under EU law and they want them all destroyed."

'No negotiations'

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture said it was not prepared to enter negotiations with the protesters.

She said: "We are not going to take any action and we will not enter negotiations.

"The crops pose no risk to human health or the environment and therefore there is no reason for the crops to be destroyed.

"If the farmers are finding they are unable to sell their crops then that is an issue they will have to pursue with Advanta."

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See also:

18 May 00 | Europe
Euro alert over GM seed
17 May 00 | UK
Alert over GM seeds
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