Wednesday August 7, 6:59 am Eastern Time

Reuters Company News
Italian court probes 10 seed companies over GMOs
By David Brough

ROME, Aug 7 (Reuters) - An Italian court is investigating 10 seed companies for allegedly using maize containing genetic material in violation of Italian law, a judicial official said.

The court in Turin launched the probe late on Tuesday after state seed agency Ense tested samples from seed companies for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and found some of them to be positive, the official, who asked not to be identified, said.

Italy has zero tolerance towards GM seeds, even though the European Union's Scientific Committee on Plants and other groups say the presence of GM material in seeds is inevitable because of unintentional contamination in the production process.

The official did not identify the companies, which are under investigation for alleged commercial fraud.

Newspapers said on Wednesday they included five Italian concerns and five foreign multinationals, including Italian subsidiaries of U.S. groups Monsanto (NYSE:MON - News) and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a unit of chemical giant DuPont Co. (NYSE:DD - News).

A spokesman for Monsanto's Lodi-based Italian subsidiary said it had asked Ense to analyse its maize seeds from the United States and Turkey after the agency found samples containing positive traces of GMOs.

Edoardo Ferri said Monsanto Agricoltura Italia SpA marketed only conventional maize seeds in Italy, but that a minimal, accidental presence of GMOs was inevitable.

"As far as we are concerned, absolute purity is impossible in the seed industry," he told Reuters.

"Absolute zero is impossible in agriculture."

Ferri said Monsanto had still not received formal notification of the investigation from the judicial authorities on Wednesday.

Seeds containing more than 0.1 percent and up to one percent of genetic material must be labelled, he said. Less than 0.1 percent is a "technical zero", he added.

Company spokesmen for Pioneer Hi-Bred Italia S.r.L. were not available for comment.

Leonardo Vingiani, director of Assobiotech, which groups biotech companies in Italy, also said the accidental presence of GMOs in seeds was inevitable.

He said he had still not received word on Wednesday from any CEOs among Assobiotech's membership about the investigation.

Italian farm groups said they were concerned over risks that farmers had sown maize and soy seeds contaminated with genetic material, and wanted guarantees that their seeds were legal.

"We are very worried about this situation," said Confagricoltura, which represents big agricultural producers.

"We want clear guarantees for farmers who have sowed some 1.4 million hectares (3.459 million acres) with maize and soy in Italy," it said in a statement.