GM contamination in Daviot

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 of June.

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

Further reading:
Shy Gardener’s guide
complete list of small and large scale GM field trials in UK