Action possible over GM errors/GM activists parade in London (13/10/2003)

* Action possible over GM errors
* GM activists parade in London
Action possible over GM errors

A genetically modified crop firm could face legal action after further evidence that contaminated seeds were planted in Scotland.  Scientists found unauthorised GM material in a batch used in farm scale trials in Fife and Aberdeenshire.

The Scottish Executive said breaches of the trials were treated "extremely seriously" and details would be sent to the procurator fiscal to consider "whether prosecution is appropriate in this particular case".

The seeds were supplied by Bayer AG's BayerCropSciences division, formerly Aventis CropScience.

Rigorous scrutiny

Ministers ordered an investigation  last autumn after spring crops of oilseed rape at 12 fields in England and two in Scotland were found to be contaminated with unauthorised GM material.

Two GM seed varieties, one of which was approved and another which was unauthorised, were found.  That discovery prompted a rigorous scrutiny of other seed lots used in past farm-scale trials.

This showed that a similar contamination had occurred involving oilseed rape planted at two fields at Daviot in spring 2001 and one field at Newport-on-Tay in spring 2002.

"That investigation, by the Scottish Agricultures Science Agency's GM inspectorate, on a further seed lot used in the now-completed trials, has uncovered additional material with GM traits not covered by the release consent," an executive spokesman said.
Deputy Environment Minister Allan Wilson said: "It is clear from a lengthy investigation by the GM inspectorate that another seed lot used in previous Scottish trials - two in spring 2001 and one in 2002 - contained low levels of GM material not covered in the consent.

"All of this material has now been destroyed."

Mr Wilson said no material from the trials entered the food chain or animal feed and there was no risk to human health or the environment.

However, he said: "We will be referring the case to the procurator fiscal for consideration of whether prosecution is appropriate in this particular case".

The minister said the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre) has been tasked with making improvements to inspection and enforcement procedures.

BayerCropSciences said: "This is a culmination of an issue that happened last August where a small amount of older-type seed was found in some of the trials.
"We welcome Acre's comment that this had no effect on the safety of the trials, either to human health or the environment, and we welcome the statement that it had no impact on the trial results.

"It is something we were aware of, and we have been working very closely with the Scottish Executive and Defra to identify what happened."

Mark Ruskell, Green list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: "If GM companies can't even get it right in experiments, how can we possibly risk letting them loose in the countryside on a commercial basis?

'Badly managed'

"The push for GM is all wrong, the public doesn't want it and fears that these companies cannot be trusted are becoming all too real.

"The executive should prosecute, moreover, they should dismiss GM's relevance in Scotland and get on with a progressive agenda for Scotland's agriculture and rural economy with some urgency."

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The executive must prosecute Bayer for allowing this contamination.

"But action now must not obscure the government's failure to manage the trials properly.

"Paradoxically, this is something of a vindication of the farm scale trials - poorly designed and badly managed as they have been, this shambles has exposed the incompetence of the biotech companies and regulators."

Acre has decided not to proceed with prosecutions in England, concluding that as the contaminated seeds had been sown inadvertently and no environmental harm had been caused there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
GM activists parade in London

Farmers and consumers joined together in a protest march on Monday against the introduction of genetically modified food and crops in the UK.
The rally in London was timed to raise awareness before the government announces the results of field trials on GM farming on Thursday.

The tests compare use of weed killers on GM and non-GM maize production, and are expected to show that GM farming is more eco-friendly.

On Sunday, former environment minister Michael Meacher launched a scathing attack on the trials, claiming a recent EU weed killer ban rendered the results invalid.

But the government has denied the ban meant the tests were flawed.

Mr Meacher was expected to join the rally alongside Indian ecologist, activist and author Vandana Shiva.

Campaigners said about 20 anti-GM "pilgrims" who had been travelling across the UK by foot, bike or tractor to raise awareness also gathered at the rally.

Some had travelled more than 600 miles.

Organic farm worker Jonny Barton was due to arrive in London having cycled from Inverness towing a coffin.

And Writer Martin Haggerty had set off from North Yorkshire on foot in September in time for the event which was organised by Friends of the Earth, GM-Free Cymru, Genetic Engineering Network and Five-Year Freeze.

Blow to trials

The parade took protesters from the National Farmers Union headquarters, to Downing Street and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where they handed in messages opposing GM.

Friends of the Earth argues the GM tests "compared two unsustainable ways of growing maize" and failed to take into account other issues such as cross-pollination with neighbouring crops and soil erosion.

Mr Meacher - who set up the tests - said an EU ban on a weed killer used in the tests called atrazine meant the three-year tests must restart.

"We need to try the trials again with a different herbicide to see what the comparison is between that and the GM one.

Commercial production

"I cannot see that the government could logically, consistently, or morally go ahead when the comparison is exposed to everybody as not being a valid or a real one."

But a government spokesman said herbicides other than atrazine, which is suspected of causing cancer, had also been used in the trials.

The findings of the trials are likely to have a huge influence on the final decision on commercial production of GM crops in the UK.

It was reported that this week's results would show herbicides used with two of the three GM crops tested - oilseed rape and sugar beet - were more damaging to insects and plants than normal weed killers.

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