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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"It is a stark message for five hundred farmers"
 real 28k

Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Farmers advised to destroy GM crops
Oilseed rape field
The government says the crops do not pose a health risk
The government has advised farmers who accidentally planted GM crops to destroy them or dispose of them after they have been harvested.

Although the Agriculture Secretary, Nick Brown, has ruled out any government compensation, he said farmers may ultimately have to resolve any legal claims with the seed supply firm, Advanta Seeds UK.

He said he favoured quick destruction of crops but added that he was not empowered to order such a move.

If it is right to destroy crops today, it was right on April 17 when he was first warned about this

Tim Yeo

Advanta disclosed last week that some of its conventional rape-seed "sold and sown" in the UK during the past two years actually contained genetically-modified seed.

Mr Brown's comments follow a threat by Greenpeace to take the government to court over revelations that thousands of acres of oilseed rape containing GM material have been planted in the UK.

"Were I a farmer and considering the two options - it is a personal view - I think I would take option A," said Mr Brown.

"If they choose option A, they have certainty about this vexed question of disposal."

The minister hopes to hold talks next week with industry representatives, including executives at Advanta, to see "if it is possible to get an agreed way forward, that would be more satisfactory".

In a statement, the company recommended that farmers should "avoid any immediate action with their crops".

The outcome of discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture was "urgently needed" before farmers decided which of the two options to pursue, it said.

Dear loss to farmers

The GM crops cannot be marketed within the EU and Mr Brown acknowledged the "ludicrous" possibility that if shipped abroad, they could be used to make processed foods before being imported back into the UK.

Such a scenario highlighted the need for EU-wide seed purity standards, he said.

The National Farmers Union estimates that the contamination incident could leave its members up to 3m worse off.

It is considering legal action against the seed company and possibly the government.

One farmer, who sowed GM contaminated seed and stands to lose up to 10,000 because of the mix-up, said he was too frightened to identify himself for fear of being targeted by environmentalists.

Nick Smith
Nick Smith favours destruction of contaminated crops

The 45-year-old, who has 40 acres in the south east of England, said: "If they'd told us in the middle of April we could have destroyed the crop and planted another one, but it's too late to do that now.

"They should do what the governments in France and Sweden have done and order us to destroy it. Then we would get compensation."

Mr Brown's announcement provoked a scornful response from the Conservatives and campaigners.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said: "If it is right to destroy crops today, it was right on April 17 when he was first warned about this.

"No farmer, no consumer and no environmentalist will have any confidence in Mr Brown after this U-turn."

Adrian Bebb, real food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the government had dithered over the issue for far too long.


Advanta believes its rape seed was contaminated by pollen from a GM crop in a neighbouring field in Canada in 1998.

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

Mr Brown, who unveiled the government's advice on Saturday, indicated that he believed Advanta should look favourably on farmers' compensation claims.

"It is clear to me there is a loss to farmers", he said, adding that "the responsibility lies with the people who sold them the defective product".

The government has reiterated an earlier statement that the accidentally-sown crops posed no risk to public health or the environment.

It is thought that in the last two years up to 600 farmers in Britain may have planted over 30,000 acres of oilseed rape, supplied by Advanta.

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See also:

26 May 00 | Sci/Tech
GM seed fears grow
25 May 00 | UK Politics
Court action threatened over GM crops
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Protest over GM blunder
24 May 00 | Sci/Tech
GM seed leak 'tip of iceberg'
25 May 00 | Talking Point
Are we becoming slaves to technology?
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
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