Monsanto to be prosecuted over crops

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The Independent Online
MONSANTO, THE multinational chemicals company, is to be prosecuted for allegedly breaching the rules on the growth of genetically modified crops. It is the first prosecution of its kind.

The Health and Safety Executive yesterday said that it is prosecuting both Monsanto and an agricultural seed company, Perryfields Holdings, over their failure to comply with regulations designed to control the spread of pollen from modified crops.

Details of the alleged incident appeared this summer in the minutes of the government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. Members of the committee found that herbicide-resistant oilseed rape was growing too close to neighbouring crops.

The minutes stated: "It was found that the pollen barrier surrounding the trial ... was only two metres wide on the site of the trial, rather than the required six metres. The trial ... had already flowered and pollination with the surrounding crop may have taken place."

The HSE said Monsanto and Perryfields Holdings allegedly failed to comply with one of the conditions agreed under the Enviromental Protection Act by which the companies were permitted to grow modified oilseed rape at a site in Lincolnshire.

Caistor Magistrates Court in Lincolnshire is to hear the case next month and, if found guilty, Monsanto faces a fine of up to pounds 20,000, or an unlimited fine if the case goes to a Crown Court.

Monsanto yesterday said it regretted the breach of consent and that it had taken immediate steps to limit any potential enviromental impact.

The company said that the subcontractors appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to run the trial had confirmed in writing that the trial complied with all relevant requirements.

"One of these requirements was that the site should be surrounded by a six metre pollen border. The border was in place at the beginning of the trial, but part of it was later mown in error by one of the contractors," Monsanto said.

The company subsequently destroyed the entire crop of modified oilseed rape.

Adrian Benn, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said biotechnology companies have been breaking the law at test sites and putting the countryside at risk. "It is ironic that the government is also trying to reach voluntary agreements with the very same companies they are prosecuting," he said.