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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Much of the contaminated oilseed rape is now flowering"
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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Court action threatened over GM crops
Oilseed rape field
GM contaminated rape crop may have to be destroyed
Greenpeace has threatened to take the government to court over revelations that thousands of acres of oilseed rape containing GM material have been planted in the UK.

Any sale of the genetically-modified rape seed released by the company Advanta would be illegal under UK and EU regulations, the pressure group claims.

Decisive action is well overdue

Lord Melchett
And it has set the government a seven-day deadline before taking court action.

Greenpeace insists that in this time, farmers who inadvertently sowed seeds contaminated with GM material must be informed that selling on the crops would be illegal.

The contamination, which was uncovered last week, resulted in 30,000 acres on 600 farms across the UK being planted with GM seed, derived from supplies produced by the Advanta company and imported from Canada.

Greepeace campaigner Lord Melchett
Greepeace's Lord Melchett: "The government must act"
Lord Melchett, the Labour peer who runs the UK branch of Greenpeace, accused the government of bungling the contamination outbreak.

"Enough is enough. Decisive action is well overdue. Relevant European and national legislation is clear that any sale of unapproved GM crops such as the GM oilseed rape is illegal."

He said the government should ensure the crops are destroyed and compensate the farmers affected.

Maize row

The threat of legal action came as allegations emerged that the UK's maize crop may also be contaminated by GM material.

French suppliers to UK farmers have admitted they cannot guarantee their seed is free of GM material.

GM soyabean plant
Seed companies admit GM contamination is inevitable
Greenpeace estimates that up to 15% of the European maize crop is likely to be contaminated by GM.

But Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has played down the controversy.

"We have no indication that any conventional maize seeds imported into the UK do contain modified varieties," he told the Commons.

The world's largest seed supplier, Pioneer hi-bred, has admitted that low-level mingling of GM and non-GM seeds is inevitable.

Rules lobby

The row comes in the light of attempts by the European Soil Association to lobby EU governments for a change in the regulations governing GM in seed.

At the moment, EU rules allow for zero contamination, but new guidelines may allow any batch of seeds to contain up to 1% genetically-modified material.

They've handed them what they have always wanted: permission to pollute

Greenpeace campaigner Charlie Kronick
Greenpeace says that a change in the rules would be giving an official blessing to incidences like the Advanta rape seed affair.

"In the face of a major GM outbreak, the government has turned for support to the very GM industry that caused the problem," said campaigner Charlie Kronick.

"They've handed them what they have always wanted: permission to pollute. The government should stop plotting with industry about how to allow contamination and instead act to eliminate the pollution."

Environment Minister Michael Meacher has promised to have "a very careful, hard look" at the proposals to allow 1% of GM material.

But he stressed that consumer confidence was vital. "It's not a matter for ministers, it's what consumers believe is right," he said.

"When they are buying food that has been bought from conventional seeds, are they prepared to accept that up to 1% of that may have been contaminated by GM? I do think we need more evidence of public opinion."

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See also:

23 May 00 | UK Politics
Protest over GM blunder
24 May 00 | Sci/Tech
GM seed leak 'tip of iceberg'
25 May 00 | Talking Point
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