Canadian Probe draws blank on GM-tainted seed


Reuters Company News
Friday May 3, 2:43 pm Eastern Time

By Veronica Brown

LONDON, May 3 (Reuters) - A Canadian inquiry has failed to reach any conclusion as to how rapeseed shipped to Europe two years ago became tainted with genetically modified material, a government report shows.

In May 2000 Britain revealed that British and European farmers had sown thousands of acres with Canadian rapeseed that was contaminated with GM material -- banned under European Union regulations.

The crops were later ripped up and the company that sold the seeds, Advanta Canada, compensated farmers.

The seeds were correctly certified according to international trade standards agreed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said in its report.

But they did not meet the stricter European Union requirements, which ban the deliberate release of unapproved genetically modified material into the environment.

"The CFIA was unable to determine the source of the adventitious trait (contamination) present in the seed lots in question," it concluded.

Public opinion in Europe, bruised by food safety scares over mad cow disease and the chemical dioxin in recent years, is wary about GM foods and there is a three year defacto ban in place in Europe on approvals of new gene spliced varieties.

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said the report was a whitewash.

The CFIA said 77 percent of the samples contained GM material that met a one percent threshold in the form of "RT 73" produced by Monsanto.

CROSS-POLLINATION

The probe also concluded that there was "no evidence of any impropriety on the part of Advanta Canada, its third party processor or the Canada Seed Growers' Association that would require any regulatory action be taken."

The CIFA said the issue was now closed but added that it would work with other governments to better understand and address the issues surrounding contaminated seeds.

Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley, calling the report a "whitewash" said, "Two years after thousands of acres of British countryside was planted with illegal GM crops, the authorities still don't know how it happened. What steps are the biotech industry and the governments of Canada and the UK taking to ensure it doesn't happen again?

"It is likely that this contamination was caused by cross-pollination from neighbouring GM crops.

"As the nearest GM crops were at least 800 metres away this raises questions over the effectiveness of separation distances between GM and conventional crops - particularly in the UK, where there are only 50 metres (decreed distance from GM crops) for rapeseed oil," he added.

Britain has been under steady pressure from environmental groups, particularly over the distances between gene crops and other varieties, due to fears of cross-contamination.

"The whole fiasco demonstrates once again the risk these crops pose to conventional and organic farmers, and provides yet more evidence for banning GM crops from being commercially grown in the UK."