29 August 2002

Delayed trial of GM seed 'begins soon' after checks

By Charles Arthur Technology Editor

The last phase of trials of genetically modified rape-seed – delayed when contaminated seeds were sown – is expected to go ahead soon, the company which caused the problem said yesterday.

A spokesman for Aventis CropScience said it was "expecting a positive decision to be made imminently" by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Aventis admitted two weeks ago that trial crops of rapeseed were contaminated with 3 per cent of unauthorised seeds which made the seed resistant to two antibiotics. Crops in 14 fields had to be torn up. That in itself was not important – the unauthorised seeds already had permission to be planted in the UK – but it underlined concerns that there were too few controls on companies producing the seeds.

Environmental groups called for the trials to be halted and said that the discovery cast doubt on all of the three-year programme, since it was impossible to say whether previous GM crop trials had not also been contaminated.

Elliot Morley, the Food Minister, expressed anger with Aventis at the time and warned that the Government might prosecute. Ministers insisted on strict tests before the planting could go ahead again. But Aventis said that it had given the Government an assurance that there is no more contamination. "They are going through the necessary checks," a spokesman said yesterday.

Defra said that it was awaiting the results of laboratory tests to ensure that only authorised GM seed was used.