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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
GM destruction go-ahead soon, says union
Oilseed rape
Thousands of acres may have been sown
There are claims farmers who accidentally sowed genetically modified seeds may soon get permission to destroy affected crops before they flower - without jeopardising special aid payments.

Scottish National Farmers Union officials say the European Commission has signalled its intention to allow the crops to be destroyed before 30 June.

Farmers could then leave their ground fallow for the summer and still be eligible for payments under the Arable Aid Scheme.

SNFU president Jim Walker said part of the battle had been won, but the vital issue of compensation has still to be resolved.

Jim Walker
Jim Walker: "EU go-ahead soon"
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said it was too early to comment on the implications, because the commission were still preparing legal documents.

Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie told the Scottish Parliament that he would be looking for Advanta, the company which distributed the seeds, to compensate the Scottish farmers affected.

Mr Finnie said it would be wrong for the executive to promise interim public compensation as that might encourage Advanta to delay.

The minister also told MSPs that the executive had been represented at London talks with the company.

On Wednesday it emerged that Mohammed al-Fayed is offering to help pay the SNFU'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.

Mohamed al-Fayed
Mohamed al-Fayed: Help pledge
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.

"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 gesture came after it emerged that staff at his Balnagowan Estate in Easter Ross had sown 55 acres of the contaminated oilseed rape.

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.

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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
01 Jun 00 | Scotland
Al-Fayed anger in GM seed row
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