The Guardian June 14, 2000


Britain: GM crops fiasco deepens

The results of the sowing of crops in Britain (as well as Sweden and 
Germany) contaminated with genetically modified seeds by mistake are 
deepening. The Government has failed to either advise farmers to plough up 
the crops now in the ground or offer them compensation.

In Scotland, Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie has ruled out any 
government compensation and told farmers they must sue Advanta, the 
Canadian company that supplied the seeds, for any costs they may incur.

This has led Jim Walker, the head of the National Farmers' Union in 
Scotland, to advise farmers to leave the crops growing until the Government 
clarifies the position on compensation.

Speaking for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Kevin Dunion 
said: "Yet more conflicting advice puts the environment at risk. Every 
additional day these illegal crops remain in the ground they pose a real 
and unnecessary risk to the environment.

"The seed crushers will not crush it and the supermarkets will not buy it. 
The only decision which will protect the environment is to plough these 
crops under."

Farmers fear that supermarkets will boycott any seed that may be 
contaminated and the whole disaster could cost them millions.

But there are far greater potential costs. Monsanto, the company that has 
pioneered these crops has recently discovered that GM soya  widely used 
in all kinds of food products  contains unexpected gene fragments.

There is no evidence that these in themselves are dangerous  or that they 
are safe. What the evidence does show is that companies like Monsanto have 
no real idea what they are unleashing and cannot hope to control all the 
knock-on effects of what they are doing.

Another four-year study by Professor Hans Hinrich Kaatz, a leading German 
zoologist, has found that genes from GM crops can jump the species barrier 
to mutate.

He found that an alien gene used to modify oilseed rape has transferred to 
bacteria living in the digestive systems of bees.

This implies that such genes could transfer to the bacteria in our own 
insides. This could have an impact on the bacteria's role in helping the 
human body fight disease, aid digestion and facilitate blood clotting.

A year ago Dr Arpad Putzai published research which showed that eating GM 
potatoes damaged the stomach lining of rats but his work was fiercely 
attacked by scientists working for the GM companies and for the Government.

Dr Mac-Wan Ho, a geneticist at the Open University, said: "These findings 
are very worrying and provide the first real evidence of what many have 
feared. Everybody is keen to exploit GM technology but nobody is looking at 
the risk of horizontal gene transfer.

"We are playing with genetic structures that existed for millions of years 
and the experiment is running out of control."

Scientists are now worried that if a gene which provides resistance to 
anti-biotics crosses from a GM crop to bacteria it would make many diseases 
impossible to treat.

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