June 1, 2000
Contaminated Rapeseeds Create EU Controversy
LONDON--Genetically modified (GM) rapeseed, also known as canola, made its way ontofarms in as many as four European Union (EU) countries despite prohibitions on growing thecrop in transgenic form, authorities in the United Kingdom and Sweden reported in May. Theseed in question was exported from Canada by Advanta Seeds, imported by Svalof Weibull ABand sown in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden.
The Canadian seeds, apparently imported by accident, spurred much controversy in theBritish Parliament, causing the U.K. agriculture ministry to issue a document aimed atbacking up its assertion that the GM seeds were not a threat to human health and theenvironment since they could not pollinate other plants. In a technical briefing note, theministry said Advanta reported that the low level of GM plants in its conventional seedcrop occurred because of cross pollination from a commercially grown GM crop. "We areabsolutely dismayed," said Mike Ruthven, general manager of Advanta Seeds UK."We are very concerned for consumers because of the sensitivity of these things. Webelieve we are extremely responsible and we are surprised that this has happened with anorthodox crop."
The findings created a dilemma over whether such crops should be destroyed in keepingwith stringent regulations over the planting of genetically altered plants. French andSwedish governments ordered the GMO-affected crops be destroyed, and environmentalists inBritain called for an immediate "search and destroy" operation to ensure thatthousands of acres of GM crops planted unknowingly were traced and pulled up. Italy's farmminister ordered anti-fraud checks to see if transgenic seed had been sold to farmerswithout their knowledge.
Angry environmental activists also demanded compensation for farmers across Europe whofound themselves unwittingly growing genetically modified crops. On May 26, 33 U.K.members of parliament signed a motion calling for Advanta to compensate the farmersaffected. However, English farmers have been pressing the U.K. government to paycompensation for the loss and possible destruction of crops, which they cannot sell inEurope. A government statement said that it is not up to the government but to thesuppliers of contaminated seeds to deal with the issue of compensation.
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