Firm airs fears over bid to halt spread of GM seeds

The seed company at the centre of the GM-contaminated crops scandal, Advanta, has raised serious doubts about attempts to stop genetically modified seeds from contaminating the environment.

The seed company at the centre of the GM-contaminated crops scandal, Advanta, has raised serious doubts about attempts to stop genetically modified seeds from contaminating the environment.

Advanta was giving evidence to MPs yesterday after it emerged in May that 5,400 hectares of its allegedly GM-free oil seed rape, which was planted across the UK, had been contaminated by genetically modified crop pollen.

All the crops, grown from Canadian seed, have been destroyed because of the risks of further cross-contamination.

Baroness Hayman, an Agriculture minister, admitted to the Agriculture Select Committee that she should have gone public on the scandal much earlier. Ministers waited four weeks after first being alerted, to assess the legal and scientific implications, before making details of the contamination public.

Earlier, Advanta executives told the committee the seed had become contaminated even though Advanta's Canadian sister company had used a 4km-wide buffer zone between it and GM crops, five times the 800-metre exclusion zone required under Canadian law.

Their evidence raises serious questions about the safety of the Government's existing 50 to 200-metre buffer zones, which are now under review.

However, Michael Meacher, an Environment minister, told the committee the Canadian government had yet to prove pollen from 4km away was responsible for the contamination.

Dr David Buckeridge, Advanta's European affairs director, admitted his company had never tested the "Hyola" hybrid seeds, sold in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland, for GM contamination because it thought the 4km buffer zone was sufficient.

Dr Buckeridge added, however, that he had serious doubts about the reliability of the tests currently being used to check that seeds are GM-free. It was impossible, he said, for non-GM crops to be entirely pure because of the scale of GM crop planting, which now stands at 40 million hectares worldwide.

The committee was told Advanta was considering suing the Government after Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, announced on 27 May, without warning the company, that all the affected crops would be destroyed. Advanta had hoped to sell the crops abroad to countries "less sensitive" about GM foods, Dr Buckeridge said.

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