Government backed trials of genetically modified crops suffered another
public relations blow last night as ministers revealed that supposedly
GM-free crops at the only Scottish site in the programme are contaminated
with GM material.
But the Scottish executive insisted that the trial at Daviot, Aberdeenshire,
would continue - despite ministers' advice that commercial farmers should
plough up similar conventional rape crops grown from seeds provided by
the Advanta company, which blames accidental cross-pollination in Canada.
The latest mistake in an embarrassing catalogue follows last week's revelation
that another trial is taking place on a farm in Essex which has suffered
a serious crop disease.
There are only 48 trials instead of up to 80 originally forecast this
year, and the government cannot afford to lose many more in the programme,
which is designed to compare the effects of herbicide treatments for GM
and non-GM plants on the environment and wildlife.
Tests revealed that there was 0.9% GM contamination of the control crop
at Daviot, nearly twice the 0.5% level the European commission thinks
should be allowed in conventional seeds until more permanent decisions
are made on purity.
The Scottish executive was already furious that officials in England did
not alert them to the Advanta contamination until weeks after the company
first told the government of the problem.
Neither the government nor its independent scientific advisers had tested
any of the conventional seeds used in the trials for GM presence before
learning of the Advanta mistake on April 17. It only asked Aventis, another
seed company whose GM rape crops are being tested on 12 sites around the
country, whether any of the control crops were affected at the beginning
Aventis notified the government of the Daviot problem on June 9.The oil
seed rape there is due to be harvested in late July or early August.
Ross Finnie, the Liberal Democrat rural affairs minister on the executive,
said that he was satisfied the validity of the trial had not been compromised.
He told the Scottish assembly: "It is important to recognise that there
is a very pertinent difference between a crop which is grown for commercial
purposes and one which is being grown as part of this trial."
Government officials said the site was a kilometre away from commercial
farms and there was little risk of cross-pollination. But Richard Dixon,
of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "There is a clear contradiction
here. The advice to any other farmer is 'If you have this crop in the
ground, plough it up'. It is crazy." Greenpeace said: "If the government
wants to maintain any credibility, it should declare this trial void and
destroy the crop immediately."
Daviot GM carnival 15/07/00
complete list of small and large scale GM field
trials in UK