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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Mr al-Fayed is furious"
 real 28k

Jim Walker NFU Scotland president
"It's quite nice to know somebody of his alleged wealth would back us"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Al-Fayed anger in GM seed row
Estate sign
GM seeds were sown at Mr al-Fayed's Scots estate
Harrods owner Mohammed al-Fayed has offered to help pay a union's legal costs of any court action it takes over the genetically modified seeds blunder.

Mr al-Fayed's gesture came after it emerged that staff at his Balnagowan Estate in Easter Ross had sown 55 acres of the contaminated oilseed rape.

Warnings were issued to British farmers after it was revealed that seed supplied by the Canadian company Advanta had been tainted by GM material.

However, a spokesman for Mr al-Fayed said government advice about the contamination had come too late to prevent sowing going ahead.

The multi-millionaire businessman was said to be "outraged" at the situation.

Mohamed al-Fayed
Mohamed al-Fayed: "Outraged" at discovery
He is now considering his legal position and is consulting with estate owners and farmers who have been affected.

The president of the Scottish National Farmers Union, Jim Walker, has confirmed that Mr al-Fayed is offering to help pay the union's legal costs for any court action for compensation over the entire GM seeds affair.

Mr Walker welcomed the approach, along with the businessman's pledges of support for other aspects of the union's campaign.

He has also offered to meet Scottish farmers' leaders to discuss how he can help further.

Mr Walker said: "Mr al-Fayed has offered any help in the future that we may require, including financial help, if we have to take a court case out against a third party for this whole debacle.

'Public profile'

"It's quite nice to know that somebody of his alleged wealth would be prepared to back us in any efforts that we have to get compensation for all our members.

"His farm in the north has a membership of our union and we would represent him the same as we would represent any other member of this organisation and it just so happens that he has something of a public profile and more cash than the normal cash-strapped farmer in Scotland at the moment."

Mr al-Fayed's spokesman revealed that the oilseed rape was still growing on the Balnagowan Estate but was expected to be ploughed in.

He said: "Mr al-Fayed feels that he and other farmers who have been affected are certainly entitled to compensation and that they should protest against this.

Jim Walker
Jim Walker: "Union will represent Mr al-Fayed"
"He is certainly in touch with the Scottish Farmers' Union and members of the Scottish Parliament and is hoping that they will present a united front."

In the last two years it is believed that up to 600 British farmers may have planted more than 30,000 acres of oilseed rape supplied by Advanta.

The company said it thought the seed was contaminated with GM rape pollen from a neighbouring field in 1998.

The Scottish NFU has called on government ministers to pursue Advanta for compensation and pay full interim payments to farmers affected.

Last week, Westminster Agriculture Minister Nick Brown advised farmers to destroy the crops but the government said that losses incurred by farmers were a matter to be resolved between them and the seed suppliers.

His Scottish counterpart, Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie, reacted with anger when he discovered that officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had failed to tell him about the oilseed problem for over a month.

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See also:

30 May 00 | Scotland
'Don't destroy GM crops'
25 May 00 | UK Politics
Court action threatened over GM crops
23 May 00 | UK Politics
Protest over GM blunder
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