We've poisoned soya beans, say bio-sabs

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Technicians were last night urgently inspecting tanks of soya at a Liverpool processing plant after bio-saboteurs claimed to have poisoned them in a protest against non-labelling of genetically engineered food.

The break-in, which took place at the plant, owned by Cargill, on Monday night, is the first time that environmental activists in Britain have said they have purposely contaminated a food component in order to stop its use. An unsigned notice delivered to The Independent yesterday said that "the contaminant is hazardous and can cause serious long-term problems". The contaminant was not specified. Initial tests by the company found "no signs" of added elements.

Soya oil is used in the manufacture of a huge range of foods, including biscuits, bread, pizza, margarines and pastries. Cargill is one of the largest manufacturers in the UK, making oil from imported soya beans.

Paul Conway, Cargill's European vice-president, said last night: "As food safety is involved we are taking these claims seriously. We have conducted tests on all of the vegetable oil storage tanks in question. We are relieved that the initial testing shows no signs of contamination." More tests will be conducted and shipment of products from the tanks has been halted. "If there has been a contamination, an irresponsible and criminal act has been committed."

The protest, by an anonymous group, follows the harvest in the US earlier this year of soya beans which have been genetically engineered to resist a herbicide. US exporters refused to separate them from normal soya beans, meaning that food made using those beans could not be labelled as "genetically modified". UK retailers condemned the decision.

A Greenpeace spokesman, Adam Wolf, said: "It certainly wasn't us who did this. It is part of our culture never to do things anonymously - we exist to bear witness."

Bob Baehr, of Earth First!, said: "Personally I think this is a great thing and I'd shake the hand of whoever did it."