GM rapeseed contaminates the UK

Conventional rapeseed, sold in UK, France, Germany and Sweden, has been accidentally[1] contaminated with GM seeds [2]. A batch of Advanta ‘s Hyola 38, Hyola 330 and Hyola 401 cross pollinated with Monsanto’s roundup ready RT73 in Alberta, Canada over a distance of between 0.8 to 1.4km. [3] It is thought that approximately 1% of the seeds were GM. However such thresholds are irrelevant, small numbers of GM seeds can rapidly pollinate conventional varieties and contaminate them permanently.

The contamination was discovered in a spot test on the 3rd April in Germany.[4] The UK government learned about the contamination on the 17th April, enough time to recall the seed and start again. This year’s European subsidy scheme extends the planting deadline for oil seed rape to the 31st of May meaning farmers blighted with contaminated seeds could still plough up the crop and replant.

The genetic pollution can be traced to monsanto’s RT73 roundup ready rape, which only has a limited release consent under part B of EU directive 90/220 and permits limited experimental growth on named field trial sites with conditions and monitoring. The contaminated Advanta releases, are and have been, uncontrolled, unmonitored commercial releases on unspecified sites with no monitoring. Sale or use of the crop for food or animal feed is also forbidden, under these terms the releases have been illegal.

The release is particularly an issue for farmers turning organic – they may now have GM contaminated land, which cannot become organic, through no choice or fault of their own. Farmers who seek to sell produce as GM-free to supermarkets and other markets may also be heavily penalised.

The UK government reassures us the seed is ‘male sterile’ and will not cross, however Advanta have said it is ‘mostly’ male sterile. Either way the plant can still be pollinated by conventional rape to produce a fertile GM seed that can exist in the soil for up to 8 years. It has also tried to falsely claim that the EU allows for thresholds of GM contamination. EU legislation sets thresholds for levels of GM contamination, but only in foodstuffs from approved GM varieties. The seeds are neither approved or food.

The Government can still prevent this year’s release and take action to stop volunteers from last years release and could have done this at any point in the last month. This makes a mockery of both of the farm scale trial programme and the food standards agency’s commitment to consumers and the food chain. [5] The government is signing away the important GM free status of UK commercial agriculture [6] and flouting their own and EU law as they do so. Two of the other three countries affected, France and Sweden [7], have already ordered their releases destroyed.

Unfortunately this release may well be the tip of the iceberg – the barrier distances used for all GM rapeseed field trials are grossly inadequate and no rape or corn seed imports are being tested by the government.

For people who are frustrated with the heel dragging of the UK government, the most likely to know where all the releases are, the DIG IT UP! campaign is beginning to gather support across Britain. The DIG IT UP! campaign calls upon the Government to have all the potentially contaminated oilseed rape crops dug up and destroyed and to pay full compensation to the farmers who have unknowingly planted them. It also calls for an immediate halt to the current field trials of GM oilseed rape and the existing plantings to be removed and destroyed. The website can be found at

Alternatively, if you want to do it yourself go to the testsite list or read stories of actions that have happened against GM.

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[1] The release was an accident – human negligence and cross-pollination are involved – it’s exactly the sort of accident that will keep happening with GM crops which are an unpredictable and uncontrollable technology.
[2] The UK is the worst affected, with 22 500 acres contaminated last year and 12000 acres this year. In France, Sweden and Germany, 1480, 1240 and 740 acres have been contaminated respectively.
[3] Current field trials in the UK require a separation distance of only 200m from other crops.
[4]This is not the first time this has happened. In the spring of 1997, two varieties of Roundup-Ready rape seeds had to be recalled by Monsanto Canada after tests revealed the seed contained genetic material that had not received full government clearance. The recall amounted to 60,000 bags of seed sold in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Two farmers who planted the crop ploughed it under and received undisclosed compensation from Monsanto.
[5] Meanwhile it has announced measures to introduce common codes on seed purity which seem more concerned with setting ‘acceptable levels’ of GM contamination than eliminating it. Far from representing the interests of the consumer, farmer, processor or environment, the government has once again abdicated responsibility in favour of the seed and biotech industry.
[6] Since the introduction of Monsanto GM rapeseed Canadian rapeseed exports to Europe have slumped as a result of consumer resistance.
[7] More information is available at the website of the Swedish Board of Agriculture,